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Editorial Committee 


CIOLOGICAL SERIES, established by 
the Trustees of the University, is devoted 
primarily to the publication of the results of the 
newer developments in sociological study in 
America. It is expected that a complete series of 
texts for undergraduate instruction will ultimately 
be included, but the emphasis will be placed on re- 
search, the publications covering both the results 
of investigation and the perfecting of new methods 
of discovery. The editors are convinced that the 
textbooks used in teaching should be based on the 
results of the efforts of specialists whose studies of 
concrete problems are building up a new body of 
funded knowledge. While the series is called so- 
ciological, the conception of sociology is broad 
enough to include many borderline interests, and 
studies will appear which place the emphasis on 
political, economic, or educational problems dealt 
with from the point of view of a general conception 
of human nature. 












Professor of Sociology, Howard University 








While this volume concerns itself with The Negro Family in 
the United States, its significance for the understanding of 
the family in general is apparent. It is, in fact, the most 
valuable contribution to the literature on the family since 
the publication, twenty years ago, of The Polish Peasant in 
Europe and America by W. I. Thomas and Florian Zna- 
niecki. For it is a basic study of the family in its two chief 
aspects as a natural human association and as a social in- 
stitution subjected to the severest stresses and strains of 
social change. 

The social scientist is greatly handicapped in his research 
by the extremely limited opportunity which he has to con- 
duct experiments. He should, therefore, take full advantage 
of the "experiments" which Nature and Society present to 
him. In the field of the family no situations are more chal- 
lenging in their range and variety than those presented for 
our observation in the transplantation of the Negro from 
Africa to America, in the transition from slavery to freedom, 
and in the mass migration from the plantation to the me- 
tropolis. Never before in the recorded history of mankind 
has the family life of a people, in so short a period, experi- 
enced so great and so sudden dislocations, necessitating ad- 
justment to new and unforeseen situations. 

These situations, and the adjustment of the Negro to 
them, Dr. Frazier has described and analyzed with ob- 
jectivity and with insight. He provides the reader with a 
wealth of data and with illuminating interpretations which 
derive from, and are not imposed upon, his concrete ma- 



terials. He shows convincingly that, depending upon the so- 
cial situation, the forms of sexual and familial relationships 
may vary from casual contacts to permanent association, 
from promiscuity to monogamy, and from patriarchal and 
matriarchal to the modern equalitarian organization of do- 
mestic relations. 

For the first time, therefore, there is available to the stu- 
dent what may be called a natural history of the family, to 
be sure of the Negro family, in the United States which epito- 
mizes and telescopes in one hundred and fifty years the 
age-long evolution of the human family. In the chapters on 
the Negro family, "In the House of the Mother," Dr. 
Frazier describes a pattern of familial human relations more 
primordial and more "natural" in the sense of being less in- 
fluenced by convention and tradition than those of any so- 
called "primitive" peoples studied by the anthropologist. 1 
He then shows, "In the House of the Father," the process by 
which the earlier maternal organization underwent meta- 
morphosis and the paternal organization of the family 
emerged and developed. 

Finally, as the Negro moves into "The City of Destruc- 
tion," Dr. Frazier portrays in sharper outlines than is pos- 
sible for any other culture group, first, the instability and 
disorganization of the family under the stress and strain of 
urban conditions and, second, the forces at work in its re- 
organization in an equalitarian form in orientation to the 
urban way of life. These four forms of the family described 
by Frazier (matriarchal, patriarchal, unstable, and equali- 
tarian) may perhaps be conceived of as ideal constructions, 

1 B. Malinowski reports that in tribes of a low level of cultural evolution, 
such as the Australian, the family is already in the mores (see The Family 
among the Australian Aborigines [London, 1913]). But the plantation Negro 
family in slavery had little or none of the sanctions of the mores. 


symbolic of the extremes of variation which the historic 
patterns of the family in their great diversity, past and fu- 
ture, have taken and may take. 

This presentation by Frazier of the natural history of the 
Negro family, documented by concrete materials, marks the 
transition from a philosophy of the family as set forth 
by Westermarck, Miiller-Lyer, and Briffault to a study of 
types of families, in this case within one biosocial group. 
The philosophical studies of the family, by emphasizing 
stages in the evolution of the family and the attributes as- 
sumed to be common to the family in general, inhibited re- 
search upon significant differences. The work of Frazier, 
like that of Thomas and Znaniecki, utilizes the opportunity 
for inductive research by comparing the behavior and forms 
of the family as they change under the impact of different 
conditions a procedure which stimulates and gives orien- 
tation to further research. 

It is in periods when institutions and persons are most 
subject to the vicissitudes of social change and when dis- 
organization and reorganization are taking place that the 
dynamic motivations of conduct become clear since they are 
less complicated by surface and secondary factors. Accord- 
ingly, this natural history of the Negro family not only dif- 
ferentiates types of families but also makes possible generali- 
zation about the family in general. 

Implicit in his data and interpretations, although not al- 
ways explicitly stated by the author, are the following con- 
clusions validated by his study and of paramount signifi- 
cance for our understanding of the family. 

i. The sexual impulse in itself is not sufficient to insure 
more than the casual union of the sexes. It cannot, there- 


fore, be taken, as has generally been the case, as being the 
family-building factor par excellence. 

2. The relationship between mother and child appears to 
be the primary and essential social bond around which the 
family develops. 

3. An intimate and affectional attachment between man 
and woman is next in importance in creating and in main- 
taining the family as a form of human association. 

4. The influence of religion is a significant factor in the 
regulation of sex and in the stabilization of the family. 

5. Economic considerations, especially those concerned 
with private property, make for the increased participation 
of the man in family life and strengthen the family as a 
social institution. 

6. The cultural gains made by individual persons are 
transmitted through the family to the rest of society. 

7. Finally, this study convincingly indicates that the 
family is rooted in human nature in human nature con- 
ceived not as a bundle of instincts but as a product of social 
life; that the family may take protean forms as it survives 
or is reborn in times of cataclysmic social change; and that 
we can predict with some assurance the persistence of the 
family but not the specific forms which it may take in the 

Professor Frazier's convincing demonstration of the 
capacity of the family to persist under most unfavorable 
conditions is dramatically confirmed by the great social 
experiment of the Soviet Union. In this instance, after the 
October Revolution, the Bolshevists permitted rather than 
required official registration of marriage and, after having 
deprived the family of almost all its institutional rights and 


obligations, allowed it to continue as a private arrangement 
between husband and wife. Either husband or wife was free 
to dissolve the union, and the only interest manifested by 
the state was to insure proper provision at the time of sepa- 
ration for the care of children born to the union. It is a 
striking fact, however, that in 1935 new legislation was en- 
acted emphasizing the responsibility of the family as a so- 
cial institution for the control of the conduct of the child. 
Editorials and articles stressed the sanctity of familial obli- 
gations. A ringing slogan began to be heard that "a poor 
family man cannot be a good Soviet citizen." 2 This finding, 
both in the Russian experiment and in the varied experiences 
of the Negro family in the United States, that the family 
has a cultural as well as an affectional function, is of para- 
mount importance in considering the changes which the 
American family now faces. 

In Recent Social Trends, William F. Ogburn shows by a 
mass of statistical evidence that the family in American so- 
ciety has lost or is losing its historical functions: health, eco- 
nomic, educational, recreational, religious, and protective. 
He points out, however, that it still retains three significant 
functions: affection, rearing of children, and the informal 
education of its members. At present, as further changes are 
taking place and others are impending, it is well to recon- 
sider the significance of these remaining functions for the 
fate of the family in Western civilization. 

A revolutionary change in the United States, the full sig- 
nificance of which for the family has not been realized or 
adequately considered, is the adoption of the program of 

a Quoted from editorial in Pravda by Nathan Herman in his article, "Ju- 
venile Delinquency, the Family, and the Court in the Soviet Union," Ameri- 
can Journal of Sociology, XLII (1936-37), 691. 


social security. In the past the person looked to the family 
for economic security. The family in turn recognized pro- 
vision for its members as a sacred obligation. The enthusi- 
asm and unanimity with which the policy of social security 
was enacted registers a profound change in public attitude. 
Youth is ready to pass the burden of the support of aged 
parents to the state; the old look to the state rather than to 
their children and kinfolks for a greater measure of security. 

But in what ways and to how great an extent will the im- 
pact of the social security program change the role and 
functioning of the family in the future? It appears that we 
should look upon social security as a symbol of all the forces 
that are shearing from the family its institutional signifi- 
cance and leaving it only its affectional and cultural func- 

More and more the American family is becoming a union 
of husband and wife based upon the sentiment of love and 
the attraction of temperamental compatibility. Less and less 
powerful every year are the factors of economic interde- 
pendence and community control. The question must 
eventually be raised: "Are affection and common cultural 
interests sufficiently binding to give substance and con- 
tinuity to the family?" 

Of late, evidence is multiplying to indicate the outstand- 
ing significance of family relations, especially in the early 
years of life, for the personality development of its members 
and particularly of the child. Studies in Chicago by F. N. 
Freeman and associates, 3 corroborated by research in Iowa 

3 F. N. Freeman, K. J. Holzinger, and B. C. Mitchell, "The Influence of 
Environment on the Intelligence, School Achievement and Conduct of Fos- 
ter Children," Twenty-seventh Yearbook of the National Society for the Study 
of Education (Bloomington, 111., 1928), Part I. 


recently published by Marie Skodak, of the Iowa Child 
Welfare Research Station, 4 show that the intelligence of 
adopted children is much closer to that of their foster-par- 
ents than to that of their natural parents. Intelligence ap- 
pears to be more a function of the familial or social environ- 
ment than of the inherited constitution. 

Studies by psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists 
are in agreement in indicating the role in personality forma- 
tion of the interpersonal relations of the child with his par- 
ents and his brothers and sisters. Trends in behavior and 
patterns of response early established persist and evolve in 
these predetermined paths. 5 

In the family also are transmitted the earliest cultural 
forms of behavior. If the child is "the little creature of his 
culture," 6 it is the family culture in which he is molded. 
Much of the impress of the cultural backgrounds is ac- 
quired unconsciously in the family, as language, food pref- 
erences, basic attitudes to sex, etc. 

It is paradoxical but nonetheless true that the recognition 
of the significance of the affectional and cultural functions 
of the family may and does lead to their curtailment. Par- 
ents more and more are turning to experts and to child- 
study associations for knowledge of the right way to rear 
their children. Preschool centers and day nurseries may in 
one sense be regarded as parental surrogates and in another 
as providing the only child with substitute brothers and 

* Marie Skodak, "The Mental Development of Adopted Children Whose 
True Mothers Are Feeble-Minded," Child Development, IX (1938), 303-8, 
and Children in Foster Homes ("University of Iowa Studies in Child Welfare," 
Vol. XVI, No. i [Iowa City, 1939])- 

s See Edward Sapir, "Personality," Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 
XII, 85-88. 

6 Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (New York, 1934), p. 3. 


sisters. Children born to parents unwilling or unable to care 
for them are placed in foster-homes. Home placement if 
properly organized and supervised is proving more satis- 
factory than institutions both for dependent children, for 
juvenile delinquents, and for adults suffering from mental 

If the community in one way or another is intervening in 
family relations, it seems from the foregoing illustrations to 
be upon the two principles either of providing the knowl- 
edge desirable for the improved functioning of the family 
or of substituting a satisfactory for an unsatisfactory family 
environment. In either case the significance of the family 
for wholesome personality development is increasingly rec- 

In democratic societies we are not likely to return to the 
semipatriarchal form of family life which confines women to 
the realm of domestic obligations. On the contrary, there is 
evidence that the union of husband and wife based on affec- 
tioi), congeniality, and common interests will become more 
stable as a primary social group and will provide its mem- 
bers with more opportunity for personal development. 

In our recognition of the contributions of The Negro Fami- 
ly in the United States to our knowledge of the family, its 
value for an understanding of the American Negro family 
should not be underestimated. All persons concerned with 
the Negro, whether engaged in research or involved in prac- 
tical problems, will find this volume indispensable. It ex- 
plodes completely, and it may be hoped once and for all, the 
popular misconception of the uniformity of behavior among 
Negroes. It shows dramatically the wide variations in con- 
duct and in family life by social classes and the still wider 
differences between individuals in attitudes, interests, ideas, 


and ideals. The first prerequisite in understanding the Ne- 
gro, his family life, and his problems is the recognition of the 
basic fact that the Negro in America is a cultural and only 
secondarily a biological group and that his culture with all 
its variations is American and a product of his life in the 
United States. 

As the Negro enters the city, the situations which he faces 
are essentially those formerly encountered by immigrant 
people from Europe and, what should not be overlooked, the 
same situations which have to be faced by white newcomers 
from villages and towns of this country. The chief dif- 
ference is that for the Negro family and individual Ne- 
groes the problems of poverty, bad housing, high rents, 
communicable disease, illegitimacy, promiscuity, prostitu- 
tion, gambling, juvenile delinquency, and adult crime are 
frequently, though not always, intensified. To perceive that 
these problems are essentially alike for the Negro and the 
white, despite qualitative differences, is a precondition to 
the development of a constructive and effective program of 
dealing with them. 

An important contribution of this volume is that it pro- 
vides a Gestalt in which the problems of the Negro family, 
both for research and for practical action, take on new per- 
spective and meaning. For this reason, if for no other, this 
work is both a necessary background and a starting-point 
for further research upon the problems of the Negro family 
in America. 



Thirty-one years ago a study of the American Negro 
family appeared in a pioneer series of monographs devoted 
to the application of objective methods to the study of the 
Negro's adjustment to modern civilization. 1 Since then the 
Negro family as a subject of serious sociological interest has 
been neglected. And, except for materials of an incidental 
nature appearing in local surveys, generally unpublished, 
and in numerous books and articles, little organized informa- 
tion has been available on Negro family life. It was because 
of the long neglect of this phase of Negro life, which prob- 
ably offers the most fruitful approach to the problem of the 
assimilation of the Negro and his adjustment to modern 
civilization, that the author undertook in The Negro Family 
in Chicago 2 to apply the tools and concepts of modern so- 
ciological analysis to the study of this problem in the North. 

The opportunity to extend over a wider area the methods 
developed in the study of the Negro family in Chicago was 
made possible by a substantial grant in 1929 and a supple- 
mentary grant-in-aid in 1934 from the Social Science Re- 
search Council. During the first two years of the study, 
and later as professor of sociology, the author enjoyed the 
advantages of Fisk University as a base from which to carry 
on most of the field work in the plantation region. To How- 
ard University he is equally indebted for a lightened teach- 
ing schedule as well as for clerical and other forms of assist- 

1 The Negro American Family, ed. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois ("Atlanta 
University Publications," No. 13 [Atlanta, 1908]). 
3 Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932. 


ance. Moreover, the study was enriched by the materials 
collected by the author in the course of an economic and 
social survey of the Harlem community for the Mayor's 
Commission on Conditions in Harlem. 

This is only a part of the heavy indebtedness which the 
author has incurred in the course of collecting materials and 
writing this book. His first obligation, which he acknowl- 
edges with deep appreciation, is to Professor Ernest W. Bur- 
gess, who not only manifested a keen interest in the study 
from the beginning but generously took valuable time from 
his own researches to read the manuscript twice and make 
valuable suggestions in regard both to style and to subject 
matter. Acknowledgment here of the encouragement, in- 
terest, and valuable insights which Dr. Robert E. Park has 
given to this study is but a small indication of the author's 
deep gratitude to his former teacher. Grateful acknowledg- 
ment is made also to Professor William F. Ogburn for his 
interest in the study as well as for his assistance in making 
possible the securing of census data. The author's indebted- 
ness to the teachings of Professor Ellsworth Paris is too ob- 
vious throughout the book to be pointed to in a few words 
of appreciation. This brief sentence must suffice as an ex- 
pression of the author's sincere appreciation of Professor 
Louis Wirth's pertinent suggestions after a careful reading 
of the entire manuscript. 

It would be impossible to make acknowledgment to all 
the persons in social agencies ahd public institutions who 
have contributed of their time and interest to this study. 
But special acknowledgment should be made for the valu- 
able assistance given by Mr. Frank Notestein, formerly of 
the Milbank Memorial Fund, and Dr. Leon E. Truesdell, 
of the Census Bureau; and to Miss Maurine Boie, for the 


tabulation of most of the statistical data. To his colleague, 
Professor William O. Brown, the author is indebted for his 
painstaking reading of the entire manuscript and for his 
valuable suggestions. For the illustrations from linoleum 
cuts the author thanks Mrs. Hilda Wilkinson Brown, of 
Miner Teachers College, Washington, D.C. Thanks are also 
due to Misses Lillian Nesbit and LeoraHadley for their careful 
typing of the manuscript several times and their assistance 
in checking references. To the thousands of unnamed Negro 
families scattered over the country, from the plantations of 
the South to the sophisticated circles of the northern cities, 
who allowed a stranger to peer into the intimacies of their 
family life and who sometimes dug up family "skeletons" for 
him to view, the author owes a debt that is best acknowl- 
edged in the pages that follow. 


March 15, 1939 








































INDEX 673 




AND 1910 311 

YEARS AND OVER, 1930 317 














1920 128 

1910 AND 1920 130 


THE UNITED STATES, 1790-1860 185 


ILLINOIS, 1920 305 

1920 307 

COMMUNITY, NEW YORK CITY, 1910, 1920, 1930, AND 1934 . 312 





I92O AND 1930 321 






CITIES, 1920 AND 1910 327 


AND 1910 329 


1924-34 333 


FOR THE FISCAL YEARS 1928-29 AND 1930-31 .... 334 




YEAR, DECEMBER i, 1919 NOVEMBER 30, 1929 . . . 372 







FOR THE UNITED STATES, 1930, 1920, AND 1910 . . . .416 

Who in Colored America: 1928-1929 ACCORDING TO STATUS . 427 



1917-30 568 



AND THE WIFE, 1920 AND 1910 573 

STATUS, 1920 AND 1910 574 


AND 1920 580 

1910 581 

THREE SOUTHERN COUNTIES, 1910 AND 1920 .... 582 






TO STATES IN 1830 AND 1860 585 

UNITED STATES, 1890-1930 585 


193 5 86 




OF THE FARM, 1910 589 



1920, 1930, IN CITIES HAVING 25,000 or MORE NEGROES IN 

1930 593 


THE WIFE, 1920 AND 1910 595 

1920 AND 1910 596 


BAND AND WIFE ARE PRESENT, 1920 AND 1910 .... 600 







CITIES OF 100,000 POPULATION OR MORE, 1930 .... 604 


OF 100,000 POPULATION OR MORE, 1930 607 


TION OR MORE, 1930 613 


1910 620 











FLINT, MICHIGAN, 1906-30 627 




1918-29 630 


1930 6 3i 



1930, 1920, 1910 637 






On the nineteenth of April, in the year 1797, Mungo 
Park started with a slave coffle from the interior of Africa 
for Gambia on the west coast. Many of these slaves, who 
had been captured in intertribal wars, had not only been 
in domestic slavery but during their captivity had been sold 
on native slave markets. "The coffle, on its departure from 
Kamalia," wrote Park, 

consisted of twenty-seven slaves for sale, the property of Karfa and 
four other Slatees; but we were afterwards joined by five at Marraboo, 
and three at Bala, making in all thirty-five slaves. The free men were 
fourteen in number, but most of them had one or two wives and some 
domestic slaves, and the school master, who was now upon his re- 
turn for Woradoo, the place of his nativity, took with him eight of 
his scholars, so that the number of free people and domestic slaves 
amounted to thirty-eight, and the whole amount of the coffle was 
seventy-three. 1 

The coffle was followed for about half a mile "by most of 
the inhabitants of the town, some of them crying and others 
shaking hands with their relations/' 2 The entire caravan 
halted on an eminence in view of the town which they had 
just abandoned. The members of the coffle were ordered to 
sit with their faces toward the west, while apart from them 
sat the townspeople facing the town. Then the schoolmaster 
pronounced a long and solemn prayer, after which the prin- 
cipal slatees (free black traders) "walked three times round 

1 The Travels of Mungo Park ("Everyman's Library" [New York, n.d.]), 
p. 248. 
'Ibid. . 



the coffle, making an impression on the ground with the 
ends of their spears, and muttering something by way of 
charm." 3 At the end of this ceremony the coffle began its 
journey to the coast. 

The westward journey led through dense forests, over 
wild and rocky country, and past ruins of towns laid waste 
by the warlike Foulahs. When periodic stops were made for 
refreshments, the schoolmaster offered prayers to Allah and 
the Prophet that they might be preserved from the maraud- 
ing bands that the coffle avoided from time to time. Six 
jalli keas (singing men) relieved the hardships of the journey 
and gained a welcome to strange towns. Some slaves at- 
tempted to end their captivity by flight, while others in 
desperation sought in suicide an escape from servitude. One 
woman who refused to eat was finally stripped and left to 
be devoured by wild beasts when she became too great a 
burden. For a day's journey the coffle was joined by an- 
other on its way to a slave market in the interior. After 
almost two months the coffle reached the coast where the 
American slaveship " Charles ton " was seeking a cargo of 
slaves for South Carolina. 

The hardships of the slaves were not ended when they 
reached the coast. There was still the ordeal of the Middle 
Passage which always took its toll in sickness and death. 
A dozen or so died before the ship set sail, and eleven of 
those weakened by sickness during the voyage died at sea. 
When the ship had been at sea three weeks, it became so 
leaky that it was necessary to release some of the slaves to 
assist at the pumps. The ship was forced to change its 
course toward the West Indies and put into Antiqua, where 
the ship was condemned and the slaves were sold. 

3 Ibid., p. 249. 


There were among these slaves, so Mungo Park informs 
us, some who carried to the New World as part of the African 
heritage a knowledge of Arabic consisting chiefly of passages 
from the Koran. Bryan Edwards has left us a picture of an 
old Mandingo servant standing beside him chanting a frag- 
ment from the Koran which he had preserved from his child- 
hood memories. 4 It was not unnatural that this slave, who 
had been brought to the West Indies in his youth, had re- 
tained but dim memories of Africa. In the case of older 
slaves, the past was not so easily blotted out. Recent stu- 
dents, who have a better knowledge of the cultural back- 
ground of the slaves, have been able to trace many words 
in the language of Negroes in the West Indies, Suriname, 
and Brazil to their African sources. 5 There is also impressive 

"An old and faithful Mandingo servant, who stands at my elbow while I 
write this, relates, that being sent by his father to visit a distant relation in 
a country wherein the Portuguese had a settlement, a fray happened in the 
village in which he resided; that many people were killed, and others taken 
prisoners, and he himself was seized and carried off in the skirmish; not, as he 
conceives, by a foreign enemy, but by some of the natives of the place; and 
being sent down a river in a canoe, was sold to the captain of the ship that 
brought him to Jamaica. Of his national customs and manners he remembers 
but little, being, at the time of his captivity, but a youth. He relates, that 
the natives practice circumcision, and that he himself has undergone that 
operation; and he has not forgot the morning and evening prayer which his 
father taught him; in proof of his assertion, he chaunts, in an audible and 
shrill tone, a sentence that I conceive to be part of the Alcoran, La ilia ill 
ilia! which he says they sing aloud at the first appearance of the new moon. 
He relates, moreover, that in his own country Friday was constantly made 
a day of strict fasting. It was almost a sin, he observes, on that day to swallow 
his spittle such is his expression" (Bryan Edwards, The History, Civil and 
Commercial of the British Colonies in the West Indies [London, 1807], II, 

s Melville Herskovits, "On the Provenience of New World Negroes," 
Social Forces, XII, 252-59. The planters in the West Indies possessed some 
knowledge concerning the tribal backgrounds of the slaves. For example, the 
Koromantyn, or Gold Coast Negroes, who were distinguished for their 


evidence of the fact that, in the West Indies and in parts 
of South America, African culture still survives in the reli- 
gious practices, funeral festivals, folklore, and dances of the 
transplanted Negroes. 6 Likewise, in regard to social organi- 

"firmness both of body and mind; a ferociousness of disposition; but withal, 
activity, courage, and a stubbornness, or what an ancient Roman would have 
deemed an elevation, of soul, which prompts them to enterprises of difficulty 
and danger; and enables them to meet death, in its most horrible shape, with 
fortitude or indifference" (Edwards, op. cit., p. 74), were, as a professional 
planter wrote on the management of slaves in the colonies, "dangerous in- 
mates on a West India Plantation' ' (Practical Rules for the Management and 
Medical Treatment of Negro Slaves in the Sugar Colonies, by a Professional 
Planter [London, 1803], in Ulrich B. Phillips, Documentary History of Ameri- 
can Industrial Society: Plantation and Frontier [Cleveland, 1910-11], II, 
127-33). I n this book by the Professional Planter we have a description of 
the racial and cultural traits of different African peoples sold on the slave 
markets together with information concerning their adaptability for the re- 
quirements of the plantation and means necessary for their management. 

6 Herskovits, op. cit., pp. 253-59; Helen H. Roberts, "Possible Survivals of 
African Song in Jamaica, " Musical Quarterly, XII, 340-58; see also, by the 
same author, "A Study of Folk-Song Variants Based on Field Work in Jamai- 
ca," Journal of American Folklore, XXXVIII, 149-216. Dr. Park's observa- 
tions in regard to the practice of Obeah show to what extent the environment 
of the New World has transformed even the most deeply rooted traits of 
African culture. He wrote after a trip to the West Indies: "What is more in- 
teresting about obeah is that while as a practice and a belief it is universal 
among the uneducated classes of the black population in the islands, it is 
everywhere different, and everywhere in process of change. Practices that 
were originally imported from Africa tend to assimilate and fuse with related 
practices and traits of the European and Hindu cultures wherever the Afri- 
cans have come into contact with them. 

"This is evident, in the first place, from the fact that the obeah man is 
not always a Negro; he may be, and not infrequently is, a Hindu. In the 
second place, the ritual of obeah may include anything from patent medicine 
to Guinea pepper. Among the instruments of obeah in the possession of the 
police of Trinidad recently were a stone image, evidently of Hindu origin, and 
a book of magic ritual published in Chicago, which pretended to be, and no 
doubt had been, translated originally from the writings of Albertus Magnus, 
the great medieval writer on magic. A book called Le Petit Albert is said to 


zation, Bryan Edwards noted that the practice of polygamy 
was "very generally adopted among Negroes in the West 
Indies; he who conceives a remedy may be found for this 
by introducing among them the laws of marriage as estab- 
lished in Europe, is utterly ignorant of their manners, pro- 
pensities, and superstitions. It is reckoned in Jamaica, on a 
moderate computation, that not less than ten thousand of 
such as are called Head Negroes (artificers and others) pos- 
sess from two to four wives. " 7 Even today it appears that 
the African pattern of family life is perpetuated in the 
patriarchal family organization of the West Indian Negroes. 8 
In contrast to the situation in the West Indies, African 
traditions and practices did not take root and survive in 

be extremely popular among obeah men in the French Islands 11 (' 'Magic, 
Mentality, and City Life" in The City, by Robert E. Park et al. [Chicago, 
1925], p. 133). 

7 Op. tit., pp. 175-76. The fact that West Indian slaves were able to re- 
knit their native culture was probably responsible for the moral solidarity 
among them, which kept planters in constant fear of servile uprisings. 

8 Martha W. Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life 
(Chapel Hill, 1929), p. 54. In the following observations of a visitor to the 
French West Indies about the year 1 700 we have, doubtless, an example of 
this patriarchal authority which had its roots in Africa. Labat says: "I 
have often taken pleasure in watching a negro carpenter at Guadaloupe when 
he ate his meals. His wife and children gathered around him, and served him 
with as much respect as the best drilled domestics serve their masters; and if 
it was a fete day or Sunday, his sons-in-law and daughters did not fail to be 
present, and bring him some small gifts. They formed a circle about him, and 
conversed with him while he was eating. When he had finished, his pipe was 
brought to him, and then he bade them eat. They paid him their reverences, 
and passed into another room, where they all eat together with their 
mother" (Pere Labat, Voyage aux Isles francoises, II, 54, cited in Hubert 
H. S. Aimes, "African Institutions in America," Journal of American Folk- 
lore, XVIII, 24-25). 


the United States. 9 The explanation, according to Profes- 
sor Park, 

is to be found in the manner in which the Negro slaves were collected 
in Africa and the manner in which they were disposed of after they 
arrived in this country. The great markets for slaves in Africa were 
on the West Coast, but the old slave trails ran back from the coast 
far into the interior of the continent, and all the peoples of Central 
Africa contributed to the stream of enforced emigration to the New 

There was less opportunity in the United States also than in the 
West Indies for a slave to meet one of his own people, because the 
plantations were considerably smaller, more widely scattered and, es- 
pecially, because as soon as they were landed in this country, slaves 
were immediately divided and shipped in small numbers, frequently 
no more than one or two at a time, to different plantations. This was 
the procedure with the very first Negroes brought to this country. 
It was found easier to deal with the slaves, if they were separated from 
their kinsmen. 

On the plantation, they were thrown together with slaves who had 
already forgotten or only dimly remembered their life in Africa. Eng- 
lish was the only language of the plantation. The attitude of the slave 
plantation to each fresh arrival seems to have been much like that of 
the older immigrant towards the greenhorn. Everything that marked 
him as an alien was regarded as ridiculous and barbaric. 10 

9 Even Professor Herskovits, who thinks that research would reveal 
African survivals among the Negroes of the United States, makes the follow- 
ing admission: "Yet to point to a Senegambian name, an Ashanti deity, a 
Congo belief among Negroes of the United States, recognizable as such, is 
almost impossible" (op. cit., p. 261 ; see also, by the same author, "The Negro 
in the New World: The Statement of a Problem," American Anthropologist, 
XXXII, 145-56). 

10 Robert E. Park, "The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures," Journal of 
Negro History, IV, 117. Professor Herskovits has produced a mass of docu- 
mentary evidence to show that the slaves brought to the New World were 
secured from "the West African coastal forested belt," a relatively homoge- 
nous culture area ("On the Provenience of New World Negroes," op. cit., 
p. 251). 


From time to time, customs among the Negro population 
have been ascribed to the African background." For exam- 
ple, at an early period in New England, Negroes had the 
custom of electing governors who exercised an almost des- 
potic discipline over local groups of slaves. This custom has 
been characterized as a survival of the social organization 
of African tribes. 12 If we may trust the testimony of a slave 
that, on the plantation where he was held for a time, there 
was a man "who prayed five times every day, always turn- 

" Negro superstitions and religious practices have been often uncritically 
attributed to African sources. Upon examination these superstitions appear 
to be folk beliefs, without any religious significance, of an isolated peasantry. 
In many cases these superstitions are traceable to European folklore. As Dr. 
Park ("The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures," op. tit., pp. 1 15-16) has pointed 
out, the last authentic account of a religious practice of African origin was 
that which took place in Louisiana in 1884 and was described by George W. 
Cable, "Creole Slave Songs," Century Magazine, XXXI, 807-27. On the Sea 
Islands, where the isolated unmixed Negroes speak a distinct dialect, we 
probably have in the "praise house" a fusion of African traits of culture with 
the practices of Western civilization (see Guion G. Johnson, A Social His- 
tory of the Sea Islands [Chapel Hill, 1930], pp. 147-53). F r an example of the 
uncritical and often absurd assertions concerning the influence of African 
culture see Carter G. Woodson, The African Background Outlined or Hand- 
book for the Study of the Negro (Washington, D.C., 1936), pp. 168-75, where 
the author, among other equally untenable conjectures, states: "The indus- 
try of the Negro in the United States may be partly explained as an African 
survival. The Negro is born a worker. In the African social order work is 
well organized. Everybody is supposed to make some contribution to the 
production of food and clothing necessary for the whole community" (p. 
171). Of the same nature is the claim of Herskovits that the practice of bap- 
tism among Negroes is related "to the great importance of the river-cults in 
West Africa, particularly in view of the fact, that as has been observed, river- 
cult priests were sold into slavery in great numbers" ("Social History of the 
Negro" in A Handbook of Social Psychology [Worcester, Mass., 1935], pp. 
256-57). It needs simply to be stated that about a third of the rural Negroes 
in the United States are Methodists and only in exceptional cases practice 

13 Aimes, op. tit., pp. 15-17. 


ing his face to the east, when in the performance of his devo- 
tions/ ' we probably have a case of the survival of Moham- 
medan practices. 13 In the same account we have a descrip- 
tion of a burial which might have been an African survival: 

I assisted her and her husband to inter the infant which was a 
little boy and its father buried with it, a small bow and several 
arrows; a little bag of parched meal; a miniature canoe, about a foot 
long, and a little paddle (with which he said it would cross the ocean 
to his own country), a small stick, with an iron nail, sharpened, and 
fastened into one end of it; and a piece of white muslin, with several 
curious and strange figures painted on it in blue and red, by which, he 
said, his relations and countrymen would know the infant to be his 

son, and would receive it accordingly, on its arrival amongst them 

He cut a lock of hair from his head, threw it upon the dead infant, and 
closed the grave with his own hands. He then told us the God of his 
country was looking at him, and was pleased with what he had done. 14 

These isolated instances only tend to show how difficult 
it was for slaves, who had retained a memory of their African 
background, to find a congenial milieu in which to perpetu- 
ate the old way of life. Even before reaching the United 
States, slaves had often been subjected to influences that 
tended to destroy the significance and meaning of their 
African heritage. 15 Once in the New World, they were sepa- 

*-* Charles Ball, Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and 
Adventures of Charles Ball, a Black Man (Lewistown, Pa., 1836), p. 127. 

x Ibid., pp. 203-5. 

'* Elizabeth Donnan (ed.), Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave 
Trade to America (Washington, 1930), I, Preface, vi. In many cases the 
slaves brought to the United States had already lost part of their African 
heritage while in the West Indies. The following list of slaves belonging to 
the members of the Moravian congregation in Philadelphia, in 1766, shows 
both the African origin of the slaves and, in two cases, the length of their 
residence in the West Indies: 

"John Rebo, b. 1721, in Angola, Guinea, Africa. In 1733 taken to Ja- 


rated from friends and acquaintances and "broken in" to 
the regimen of the plantation. 16 Finally, they had to face 
the disdain, if not the hostility, of the slaves who had become 
accommodated and accustomed to the new environment. 17 

maica, W.I., and in 1737 to New York. Baptized Oct. 19, 1747, by Bishop 
J. C. F. Cammerhoff 

"Silpo Fortune (baptized 1761, Anna Elizabeth), b. Jan. r, 1730. 

"Tobias, b. 1721, in Ibo Nation, Africa, brought to America in 1763. 

"Woodridge, b. 1748, in Guinea, Africa, taken to Barbadoes, W.I. , 1756, 
and to Philadelphia in 1764. 

"Dinah, b. 1740, in Guinea, Africa, brought to Philadelphia in 1756. 

"Flora, b. 1725, in Ibo Nation, Guinea, Africa, brought to Pennsylvania 

in 1735- 

"Rose, b. 1726, in Guinea, Africa, brought here in 1736 " 

16 A traveler in Louisiana described the process of breaking in new Negroes 
as follows: "Negroes bought from the importers and carried home by the 
purchasers are ordinarily treated differently from the old ones. They are 
only gradually accustomed to work. They are made to bathe often, to take 
walks from time to time, and especially to dance; they are distributed in small 
numbers among old slaves in order to dispose them to better acquire their 
habits" (C. C. Robin, Voyages ... de la Louisiane [Paris, 1807], III, 169-70, 
in Phillips, op. cit., II, 31). A Negro slave who was brought to Virginia about 
1755 from Barbadoes and was shortly afterward taken to England wrote as 
follows concerning his isolation : "We were landed up a river a good way from 
the sea, about Virginia county, where we saw a few or none of our native 
Africans, and not one soul who could talk to me. I was a few weeks weeding 
grass, and gathering stones in a plantation; and at last all my companions 
were distributed different ways, and only myself was left. I was now ex- 
ceedingly miserable, and thought myself worse off than any of the rest of 
my companions; for they could talk to each other, but I had no person to 
speak to that I could understand" (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of 
Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself [London, 
1 789], I, 90-91). 

x ? The following newspaper account of the reception of four native Afri- 
cans on a Georgia plantation, except for the inferred detail concerning the 
delight of the newcomers, is probably indicative of the general attitude of the 
slaves toward their African background: "Our common darkies treat them 
with sovereign contempt walking around them with a decided aristocratic 


As regards the Negro family, there is no reliable evidence 
that African culture has had any influence on its develop- 
ment. 18 In the autobiography of a slave a story is told of a 
slave who claimed that he had been a priest in Africa and, 
when through with his work in the field, assumed an atti- 
tude toward his wife similar to that of the husband in the 
West Indian Negro family. 19 This might have been an in- 
stance of the survival of African customs. Concerning this 
slave, Ball wrote: 

[He] was a morose, sullen man, and said he formerly had ten wives 
in his own country, who all had to work for, and wait upon him; and he 
thought himself badly off here, in having but one woman to do any- 
thing for him. This man was very irritable, and often beat and other- 

air. But the Africans are docile and very industrious and are represented as 
being perfectly delighted with their new homes and improved conditions. 
The stories that they are brutes and savages is all stuff and nonsense. It was 
put in the papers by men who do not know what they are talking about. As 
to their corrupting our common negroes, we venture the assertion would 
come nearer the truth if stated the other way" (Atlanta [Ga.] Daily Intelli- 
gencer, March 9, 1859, in Phillips, op. cit. t II, 54-55)- 

18 Du Bois, who believed that careful research would reveal traces, but 
traces only, "of the African family in America" since "the effectiveness of 
the slave system meant the practically complete crushing out of the African 
clan and family life," nevertheless gives as an example of survival the case of 
a Negro country wedding in Lowndes County, Alabama, in 1892, in which the 
bride was chased "after the ceremony in a manner very similar to the Zulu 
ceremony" (The Negro American Family [Atlanta, 1908], p. 21). To establish 
any real cultural connection between African practices and such behavior as 
that described in the case cited would require not only a more detailed knowl- 
edge of the tribal origins of American Negroes than our sources of informa- 
tion afford us but a definite historical connection between specific practices 
and particular tribes. Without such knowledge, the claim of a social worker 
(Corinne Sherman, "Racial Factors in Desertion," Family, III, 224) that she 
was not able to understand "the conjugal habits of colored clients" until she 
had gained a knowledge of African customs shows to what fantastic conclu- 
sions speculations about African survivals in America may lead one. 

"See n. 8 above. 


wise maltreated his wife, on the slightest provocation, and the overseer 
refused to protect her, on the ground, that he never interfered in the 
family quarrels of the black people. 20 

The slaves, it seems, had only a vague knowledge of the 
African background of their parents. For example, a slave 
brought to Southampton County, Virginia, said concerning 
his father: 

My father's name was Joe. He was owned by a planter named 
Benford, who lived at Northampton, in the same state. I believe my 
father and his family were bred on Benford J s plantation. His father had 
been stolen from Africa. He was of the Eboe tribe. I remember seeing 
him once, when he came to visit my mother. He was very black. I 
never saw him but that one time, and though I was quite small, I have 
a distinct recollection of him. He and my mother were separated, in 
consequence of his master's going further off, and then my mother was 
forced to take another husband." 

Although Austin Steward, one of the early leaders in pro- 
testing the emigration of the free Negroes to Africa," does 
not give the tribal origin of his ancestors, he gives real or 
legendary details of the circumstances under which his 
grandfather was captured in Africa: 

20 Ball, op. cit., pp. 203-4. It is of interest to note that Professor Hersko- 
vits claims that "the importance of the mother's family, though not institu- 
tionalized, is so great when compared with the significance of the father and 
his people that it must be considered as one of these special types of tradition, 
as must the care taken of orphaned children by relatives, usually on the 
mother's side, and the reluctance of Negroes to allow orphans to be taken to 
institutions which shelter such children" (Handbook of Social Psychology, 
p. 254). Contrary to this far-fetched explanation, the prevalence of the 
maternal family organization among Negroes will be shown in the course of 
our study to be due to social and economic forces in American life. 

31 John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, 
and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Now in England, ed. L. A. 
Chameroozow (London, 1855), pp. 1-2. 

aa C. G, Woodson, The Negro in Our History (Washington, 1928), p. 272. 


Some years ago, a woman engaged in washing clothes, near the sea 
coast, had a lad with her to take care of her two younger children one 
a young babe while she was at work. They wandered away a short 
distance, and while amusing themselves under some bushes, four men, 
to them strange looking creatures, with white faces, surrounded them; 
and when the lad attempted to run away, they threw the infant he held 
in his arms, on the ground, and seizing the other two children, bore 
them screaming with fear, to the ship. Frantic and inconsolable, they 
were borne to the American slave market, where they were sold to a 
Virginia Planter, for whom they labored sorrowfully and in tears, 
until old age deprived them of farther exertion, when they were turned 
out, like an old horse, to die; and did die destitute and uncared for, in 
their aged infirmity, after a long life of unrequited toil. That lad, stole 
from Africa's coast, was my grandfather. 23 

But in the case of Martin Delany, 24 who was associated 
with Frederick Douglass on the North Star and who, after 
serving as a surgeon in the Civil War, became the first 
Negro major in the United States Army, we have a full 
account of his African origin. "His pride in birth, " writes 
his biographer, "is traceable to his maternal as well as to 
his paternal grandfather, native Africans on the father's 
side, pure Golah; on the mother's, Mandingo." 25 Further 
details of his African racial heritage and the career of his 
ancestors are given in his biography : 

His father's father was a chieftain, captured with his family in war, 
sold to the slavers, and brought to America. He fled at one time from 

** Austin Steward, Twenty-two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman; 
Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce 
Colony, London, Canada West (Rochester, N.Y., 1857), pp. 336-37. 

*< See * 'Martin Robinson Delany/' Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 
V, 64-65. 

*$ Frank A. Rollin, Martin R. Delany: Life and Public Services of Martin 
R. Delany, Sub-assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Relief of Refugees, Freed- 
men and Abandoned Lands and Late Major loqth U.S. Colored Troops (Boston, 
1869), p. 15. 


Virginia, where he was enslaved, taking with him his wife and two 
sons, born to him on this continent, and, after various wanderings 
reached Little York as Toronto, Canada, was then called unmo- 
lested. But even there he was pursued, and "by some fiction of law, 
international policy, old musty treaty, cozenly understood," says 
Major Delany, he was brought back to the United States 

On his mother's side the claim receives additional strength. The 
story runs that her father was an African prince, from the Niger Valley 
regions of Central Africa; was captured when young, during hostilities 
between the Mandingoes, Fellah tas, and Houssa, sold and brought to 
America at the same time with his betrothed Graci. His name was 
Shango, surnamed Peace, from that of a great African deity of protec- 
tion which is represented in their worship as a ram's head with the 
attribute of fire 

Shango, at an early period of his servitude in America, regained his 
liberty, and returned to Africa. 

Whether owing to the fact that the slave system was not so 
thoroughly estabished then that is, had no legal existence, or the 
early slaveholders had not then lost their claims to civilization, it was 
recognized among themselves that no African of noble birth should be 
continued enslaved, proofs of his claims being adduced. Thus, by 
virtue of his birth, Shango was enabled to return home. His wife, 
Graci, was afterwards restored to freedom by the same means. She 
remained in America, and died at the age of one hundred and seven, 
in the family of her only daughter, Pati, the mother of Major Delany. 26 

Major Delany was able to authenticate these incidents 
in his family history on an exploring trip to Africa in 1859 
while investigating the Niger Valley as a suitable place to 
which emancipated Negroes might emigrate. He learned 
that his grandmother had been dead about forty-three years 
and that his "grandfather was heir to the kingdom which 
was then the most powerful in Central Africa, but lost his 
royal inheritance by the still prevailing custom of slavery 
and expatriation as a result of subjugation." 27 Thus Major 

36 Ibid., pp. 15-17. 3 7lbid. t p. 17. 


Delany realized the ambition which, according to his biog- 
rapher, was first kindled in him by the chants of his Man- 
dingo mother. 

The case of Major Delany is unusual, in respect to both 
his zeal in searching out the source of his African heritage 
and to the definiteness of his knowledge of his African an- 
cestry. In most Negro families where there is knowledge 
concerning African origins it has become a more or less vague 
part of the family traditions. A founder of a school in the 
Black Belt modeled after Tuskegee tells us that his maternal 
grandmother came directly from Africa and spoke the Afri- 
can language. "It is said," he sums up his knowledge of 
her African background, "that when she became angry no 
one could understand what she said." 28 Moton, of unmixed 
ancestry, goes into greater detail concerning his African pro- 
genitors. 29 But the very details of Moton's story cast doubt 

28 W. J. Edwards, Twenty-five Years in the Black Belt (Boston, 1918), p. i. 

29 Moton gives the following account of his African progenitor: "About 
the year of 1735, a fierce battle was waged between two strong tribes on the 
west coast of Africa. The chief of one of these tribes was counted among the 
most powerful of his time. This chief overpowered his rival and slaughtered 
and captured a great number of his band. Some of the captives escaped, 
others died, others still committed suicide, till but few were left. The vic- 
torious chief delivered to his son about a dozen of this forlorn remnant, and 
he, with an escort, took them away to be sold into slavery. The young African 
pushed his way through the jungle with his bodyguard until he reached the 
coast. Arrived there, he sold his captives to the captain of an American slave 
ship and received his pay in trinkets of various kinds, common to the custom 
of the trade. Then he was asked to row out in a boat and inspect the wonder- 
ful ship. He went, and with the captain and the crew saw every part of the 
vessel. When it was all over they offered him food and he ate it heartily. 
After that he remembered no more till he woke to find himself in the hold 
of the ship chained to one of the miserable creatures whom he himself had 
so recently sold as a slave, and the vessel itself was far beyond the sight of 
land. After many days the ship arrived at the shores of America; the human 
cargo was brought to Richmond and this African slave merchant was sold 


upon its authenticity. Du Bois, of mixed blood, has woven 
the slender bond between himself and Africa from a ro- 
mantic story of a Bantu ancestress. Two hundred years 
before his birth, 

Tom Burghardt had come through the western pass from the Hudson 
with his Dutch captor, "Coenraet Burghardt," sullen in his slavery 
and achieving his freedom by volunteering for the Revolution at a 
time of sudden alarm. His wife was a little, black, Bantu woman, who 
never became reconciled to this strange land; she clasped her knees and 
rocked and crooned: 

"Do banna coba gene me, gene me! 
Ben d'nuli, ben d'le ."30 

Similarly, traditions in other Negro families go back to 
African ancestors, who are identified at times with various 
tribes or nations. The Wrights, who for two generations 
have achieved distinction as educators, claim descent from 
a Mandingo chief. 31 George Schuyler, who holds a unique 
place among Negro journalists and authors, traces his an- 
cestry on his mother's side to Madagascar. With his char- 
acteristic skepticism, he remarks that the claim that she 
was a princess was * 'probably a lie." 32 A physician in 
Charleston, South Carolina, traces the African origin of his 
family to his father's grandmother, the daughter of a chief 

along with his captives at public auction in the slave markets of the city. He 
was bought by a tobacco planter and carried to Amelia County, Virginia, 
where he lived to be a very old man. This man was my grandmother's great 
grandfather" (Robert Russa Moton, Finding a Way Out [New York, 1920], 
PP- 3-4). 

3 W. E. B. Du Bois, Darkwater (New York, 1920), p. 5. 

3* From data on questionnaire. See Who's Who in America^ 1930-1931, 
p. 2422. 

3 a From data on questionnaire; see also George S. Schuyler, "Black Art," 
American Mercury p , XXVII, 335. 


in Madagascar, who was taken by missionaries to France 
to be educated but was stolen and sent to America, where an 
unsuccessful attempt was made to enslave her. Traditions 
in the family of a young lawyer of mixed blood in Chicago 
also point to Madagascar as the home of his African ances- 
tor. 33 A physician in the same city tells of a great-grand- 
father of royal blood who was purchased and freed by 
Quakers after he refused to be enslaved. Sometimes the par- 
ticular tribal or racial identity of the African progenitor has 
been lost, as in the family history of a lawyer in Harrisburg 
whose great grandfather was simply known as an African 
called Brutus, who was killed when he refused to submit 
to slavery. The vagueness of most of these traditions con- 
cerning the African ancestry is shown in the family history 
of a young woman who teaches in a Negro college. She 
writes : 

As far back as I can go on my mother's side I can remember my 
great-grandmother. We are of the opinion that she was not far re- 
moved from the African group. Her parents were born, I think, in 
Africa. This one thing she must have told my grandfather for he told 
me that his people on the African side were Ebos. We didn't know 
what he was talking about when he told us but I have found out since 
about the Ebo by reading Woodson's books where he talks about how 
hard it was to manage them and they stopped bringing them here as 
slaves. I remember that my great-grandmother was hard to manage 
and grandfather had to build a separate house for her. She lived to be 
ninety-six years old. 34 

Sometimes the tradition is almost forgotten; all that has 
been transmitted is that some remote ancestor was a "na- 
tive of Guinea' ' or from some other part of Africa. 

33 See Donnan, op. cit., I, 94, and III, 14 and 407, for references among 
others to slaves brought from Madagascar to America. 

34 Manuscript document. 


Except in rare instances the few memories and traditions 
of African forebears that once stirred the imagination of the 
older generations have failed to take root in the minds of the 
present generation of Negro youth. Here and there one 
finds among the family traditions of college students a story 
of an African ancestor portrayed in more or less distinct 
outlines. In one story the African progenitor is bound up 
with the well-known legend among Negroes of the red flag 
that lured slaves from the African shore. A college student 
writes : 

As was told me, Granny's grandmother was a "Golden Nigger." 
She had a gold star branded on her forehead. She told Granny that one 
day she and some other children were playing in Africa. They sighted 
a red flag flying at a distance from them. They became curious as to 
what the red rag was and ran to it. On approaching they were grabbed 
by some white men and put on a ship. This ship brought them to 
Virginia where they were sold. She always hated anything red because 
that was the color that attracted her from home and people whom she 
never again saw or heard from. She is referred to as often saying "Oh, 
that red rag, that red rag, that red rag brought me here." 35 

Another student writes with more assurance a story that 
has the appearance of sober history : 

In the year 1771 somewhere in the heart of Africa, there was born to 
an African king a baby boy by the name of Lewis; this baby boy was 
destined to be one of my ancestors. This baby had a brother by the 
name of Hosea. Very little is known of Lewis' early days, and of his 
life in Africa, for at a very early age his father sent him to France with 
two bachelors who were Frenchmen. Here in France, Lewis was to 
receive his education and learn the ways of the French people. Lewis 
had no sir name, thus he took the name of the two bachelors, who were 
brothers and is now Lewis De Benyard. After staying in France for 
only a short while these Frenchmen turned their faces towards 
America, and it was thus that Lewis De Benyard found himself in 

as Manuscript document. 


America. At the age of about 15 Lewis landed in America on St. 
Simons' Islands. He was reared on Jeckle Island and having received 
a rather good education was made overseer of a set of slaves in that 
district.* 6 

In the same tone still another student relates the details, 
which he received from his grandfather, of the capture in 
Africa and transportation to America: 

Peter, as I have it from my old grandfather, was the name of his 
grandfather and could remember when he was captured and carried 
across the "big water." It was one day during the dry season when 
Peter was a young boy that some natives and white men came to talk 
to his, Peter's, father and the other warriors of the tribe. There was 
much shaking of heads and finally the white men left very angry. Some 
days later the runners came in telling of a large army coming to destroy 
the village and take all as slaves. When the fighting was over, Peter, 
his mother and smaller brother were chained to the long line of prison- 
ers and marched for days through the forest into the setting sun. Then 
one day they came at last to the u big water." Here they were bathed, 
treated and examined and next day put on board a big boat out in the 
"big water." On the trip over Peter's brother died. 

Then one night they were roused from their sleep and crowded on 
deck quietly, put into small boats and carried ashore. The next morn- 
ing Peter's eyes saw a new land, different from his native village and 
its surroundings but he was too glad to be on ground again to worry 
about that. All day they stood, or sat in the hot sun but they didn't 
mind that for did they not have clothes again? On the voyage over 
they were stripped of all clothing, as I have learned, to insure a maxi- 
mum of cleanliness. On the following day they were taken out in 
small groups and sold one at a time. Peter's mother had become ill and 
no one would buy her, but Peter was bought by a funny looking man 
with whiskers. What were they saying to him about his mother? 
Surely they were not angry because he wanted to stay with her. He 
cried and the funny man struck him with a whip. He quit crying for he 
didn't like that. He hadn't liked any of it, but he wouldn't stand for 
much beating. Not Peter I The man didn't strike any more and Peter 

3 6 Manuscript document. 


found a friend in another of the slaves, a woman who knew his mother. 
They were put in a wagon and rode all day and part of the night before 
being unloaded and locked in a cabin. Many days passed and Peter 
was now one of the workers and he could understand some of the 
things said to him." 

Pride in purity of race has evidently kept alive the tradi- 
tion of African heritage in the family of another student: 

I remember my father often boasting of the fact that he had a pure 
strain of Negro blood in his veins. He told me that he could trace his 
ancestors back to the very heart of Africa. His grandfather, who was a 
wonderful influence in his life, often told him tales of his great-grand- 
father who was a slave in the early days of slavery. He would relate 
very interestingly facts concerning his transportation from Africa into 
this country to his great-grandchildren. In this manner the tales were 
handed down the line until they came to me, and I guess even I will 
relate them to my children. 38 

These scraps of memories, which form only an insignifi- 
cant part of the growing body of traditions in Negro families, 
are what remains of the African heritage. Probably never 
before in history has a people been so nearly completely 
stripped of its social heritage as the Negroes who were 
brought to America. Other conquered races have continued 
to worship their household gods within the intimate circle 
of their kinsmen. But American slavery destroyed house- 
hold gods and dissolved the bonds of sympathy and affec- 
tion between men of the same blood and household. Old 
men and women might have brooded over memories of their 
African homeland, but they could not change the world 
about them. Through force of circumstances, they had to 
acquire a new language, adopt new habits of labor, and take 
over, however imperfectly, the folkways of the American 
environment. Their children, who knew only the American 

a' Manuscript document. s* Manuscript document. 


environment, soon forgot the few memories that had been 
passed on to them and developed motivations and modes 
of behavior in harmony with the New World. Their chil- 
dren's children have often recalled with skepticism the frag- 
ments of stories concerning Africa which have been pre- 
served in their families. But, of the habits and customs as 
well as the hopes and fears that characterized the life of 
their forebearers in Africa, nothing remains. When edu- 
cated Negroes of the present generation attempt to resur- 
rect the forgotten memories of their ancestors, they are 
seeking in the alien culture of Africa a basis for race pride 
and racial identification. Hence, when a young sophisti- 
cated Negro poet asks, 

What is Africa to me? 

and answers with true poetic license that the African heri- 
tage surges up in him 

In an old remembered way, 39 

we hear the voice of a new race consciousness in a world of 
conflict and frustration rather than the past speaking 
through traditions that have become refined and hallowed 
as they have been transmitted from generation to genera- 

39 Countee Cullen, "Heritage" in Color (New York, 1925), pp. 36-41. 


In America there was no social organization to sustain 
whatever ideas and conceptions of life the Negro slave 
might have retained of his African heritage. If we can rely 
on the report of an old Negro woman that "a slave who 
married a girl from a group of native Africans just received 
on the plantation" was required "to obtain the consent of 
every member of the girl's group before he was allowed to 
marry her," 1 we have what might be an instance of the con- 
tinued control of the clan organization in America. But 
such cases, if they existed at all, were rare. In the new en- 
vironment the Negro's sexual impulses and wishes in regard 
to mating, although doubtlessly influenced to some extent 
by the ideas which he had acquired in Africa, were liberated 
from group control and became subject only to the external 
control of the master and the wishes and attitudes of those 
with whom he formed unions. 

In the early days of the slave trade the first restraint im- 
posed upon the expression of the Negro's sexual impulses 
was the disproportionate number of males in the slave popu- 
lation. It was not until about 1840 that the number of 
Negro women equaled that of men. 2 To this cause were 

1 Newbell N. Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (Chapel Hill, 
N.C., 1926), p. 24. 

3 See W. E. B. Du Bois, The Negro American Family (Atlanta, 1908), 
pp. 18-19. A similar situation existed in the West Indies. Bryan Edwards 
(The History, Civil and Commercial of the British Colonies in the West Indies 
[London, 1807], II, 175) writes: "It has been shown from unquestionable 
authority, that one third only are females. Thus, notwithstanding every 



probably due the numerous cases of sex relations between 
Negro slaves and indentured white women. 3 An excess of 
males was created where slavery tended to be a purely in- 
dustrial enterprise requiring masculine labor. Under such 
circumstances there was no opportunity for permanency in 
the association between the sexes. A traveler in Louisiana 
in 1802 has left us his observations on the results of the ab- 
sence of women in the slave population. "Those who can- 
not obtain women (for there is a great disproportion be- 
tween the numbers of the two sexes) traverse the woods in 
search of adventures, and often encounter those of an un- 
pleasant nature. They frequently meet a patrol of the 
whites, who tie them up and flog them, and then send them 
home." 4 The casualness of the contacts, when the slaves 
succeeded in finding women, prevented the development of 
strong attachments, which result from prolonged associa- 
tion between the sexes. 

On most of the plantations, where there was no lack of 
women, 5 mating ranged from purely physical contacts, 
often enforced by the masters, to permanent associations, 
in which genuine sentiment between the spouses and pa- 
rental affection for children created a real family group. 
There were masters who, without any regard for the prefer- 
ences of their slaves, mated their human chattel as they did 

allowance for the Creoles or natives, who may reasonably be supposed to 
have encreased according to the general laws of nature, there was in the year 
1789, in Jamaica alone, an excess in its Negro population of 30,000 males." 

3 See Carter G. Woodson, "Beginnings of Miscegenation of Whites and 
Blacks/ 1 Journal of Negro History, II, 335-53. 

4 Berguin Duvallon, Travels in Louisiana and the Florida*, in the Year 
1802^ pp. 79-94, in Journal of Negro History, II, 172. 

5 From 1840 on, there has been an excess of females in the Negro popula- 
tion in the South. 


their stock. According to a former slave, the master in giv- 
ing orders concerning their work ordered them to "get mar- 

In July, Claypole told us, we must cultivate five hogsheads of 
Tobacco for our summer's work. Added to this, was the order for us 
to "get married," according to Slavery, or in other words, to enrich his 
plantation by a family of young slaves. The alternative of this was, to 
be sold to a slave trader who was then in the vicinity making up a 
gang for a more southern market. 6 

And, when such little consideration was shown for the per- 
sonality of the slaves, the practice of setting up Negro males 
as stallions followed as a natural consequence when it was 
to the economic advantage of the master to increase his 
slaves. 7 A traveler in America in the eighteenth century 
who observed the practice was apparently more concerned 
with its effect upon the fertility of the slaves than its moral 

But allowing some Justice in or at least, a great deal of Necessity 
for, making Slaves of this Sable part of the Species; surely, I think, 
Christianity, gratitude, or, at least, good Policy, is concerned in using 
them well, and in abridging them, instead of giving them Encourage- 
ment, of several brutal and scandalous customs, that are too much 
practiced: Such as the giving them a number of Wives, or, in short 
setting them up for Stallions to a whole neighborhood; when it has 
been prov'd, I think, unexceptionally, that Polygamy rather destroys 
than multiplies the Species. 8 

In a world where patriarchal traditions were firmly es- 
tablished, probably even less consideration was shown for 

6 Andrew Jackson, Narrative and Writings of Andrew Jackson, of Kentucky 
(Syracuse, N.Y., 1847), P- 8. 

7 Cf. Ulrich B. Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South (Boston, 1929), 
pp. 203-5. 

8 [Ed ward Kimber], Itinerant Observations in America. Reprinted from 
The London Magazine^ 1745-46 (Savannah, Ga., 1878), pp. 37-38. 


the preferences of slave women. When men of the servile 
class were ordered to mate, women, who on the whole played 
a more passive role, had little choice in the selection of 

When the sexual impulses of the males were no longer 
controlled by African customs and mores, they became sub- 
ject only to the periodic urge of sexual hunger. Under such 
circumstances the males, as is generally true, seized upon the 
woman who happened to be at hand and with whom they 
had been thrown into closest contact. 9 Such lack of discrimi- 
nation or sentiment in the selection of mates is manifested 
in the case of a slave who, after leaving a "wife" in Vir- 
ginia, proceeded immediately to select one from the slave- 
trader's lot of which he was a member. To the prospective 
buyer's question, "Have you a wife?" he answered, "Yes, 
massa, I lef ' young wife in Richmond, but I got a new wife 
here in de lot. I wish you buy her, massa, if you gwing to 
buy me." 10 

But, in many cases of sexual unions or temporary mat- 
ings, individual preferences and discrimination must have 
asserted themselves from the beginning. We have the fol- 
lowing story of a slave who persisted in associating with a 
woman on a neighboring plantation in spite of the punish- 
ment to which he was subjected: 

As soon as he felt able to go so far, that is, in about three months, he 
made another attempt to see her, was missed, pursued and caught. 
Then Thomas Stevens swore a fearful oath that he would cure him of 
"wife hunting." If he must have a wife, there was a plenty of likely 
y allow gals on the plantation for such as he to choose from. He might 
have the pick of 'em. But he (Stevens) wasn't going to let his niggers 

9 Cf. Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York, 1927), I, 245. 

10 Slavery in America, with Notices of the Present State of Slavery and the 
Slave Trade throughout the World (London, 1837), p. 128. 


breed for another man's benefit, not he: so if John couldn't get a wife 
off the plantation he shouldn't have one at all. But he'd cure him of 
Nancy any how. 11 

Likewise, women who had formed attachments for particu- 
lar men sometimes resisted attempts to force them into 
promiscuous unions. A young mulatto girl who had been a 
maid and dressmaker for her mistress ran away when her 
master decided to give her to one of his slaves: 

She was engaged to a young man from another plantation, but he 
had joined one of Harriet's parties, and gone North. Tilly was to have 
gone also at that time, but had found it impossible to get away. Now 
she had learned that it was her Master's intention to give her to a 
Negro of his own for his wife; and in fear and desperation, she made 
a strike for freedom." 

But, on the whole, since slavery was, as Phillips has well 
characterized it, "a curious blend of force and concession, of 
arbitrary disposal by the master and self-direction by the 
slave, of tyranny and benevolence, of antipathy and affec- 
tion/' 13 the masters either through necessity or because of 
their humanity showed some consideration for the wishes 
of the slaves in their mating. In the following letter from 
one master to another there is not only a recognition of the 
slave's preference in the choice of a mate but an indorse- 
ment of his personal qualifications for marriage : 

As my boy Reuben has formed an attachment to one of your girls 
and wants her for a wife this is to let you know that I am perfectly 

" John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, 
and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Now in England (London, 1855), 
p. 40. 

" Sarah Elizabeth (Hopkins) Bradford, Harriet Tubman: Scenes in the 
Life of Harriet Tubman (Auburn, N.Y., 1869), p. 57. 

. cit., p. 217. 


willing that he should, with your consent marry her. His character is 
good, he is honest faithful and industrious. 14 

Whenever the slave showed discrimination and definite 
preference in the selection of a mate, the purely sexual im- 
pulses and feelings were transformed into something more 
than animal appetite. There developed in many such cases 
what might truly be called a period of courtship. There 
was rivalry between the males which often assumed the 
character of animal rivalry, but this was controlled by the 
masters in the interest of order on the plantation. But there 
was rivalry of another sort in which brute force was re- 
placed by manifestations of tender feelings and attention to 
the wishes of the woman. If during this period of courtship 
there was much opportunity for the expression of tender 
feelings and the development of mutual sympathies, the 
sexual impulses of the male were further transformed. A 
development of this nature must have taken place in the 
case of a slave who wooed his future wife in an adjoining 
field and slyly helped her with her work. The following 
story which a college student has written concerning the 
courtship of her great-grandparents may not be true in all 
its details, but it undoubtedly shows under what circum- 
stances tender feelings and sympathy became fused with 
the purely sexual impulses. The boy, Charles, who was his 
master's child, was sold with his mother when the master's 
wife discovered the relationship. On the plantation to which 
they were sold they were isolated because of their lack of 
sympathy with the uncouth field hands and the latter's hos- 
tility toward slaves of mixed blood. 

' Letter of A. R. Wright, Louisville, Georgia, to Howell Cobb at Cherry 
Hill in the same county, in Phillips, Documentary History of American In- 
dustrial Society: Plantation and Frontier (Cleveland, 1910-11), II, 45. 


C W had reached the approximate age of twelve when his 

mother died. As a boy C W showed a great deal of interest 

in the stables. His interest in horses was so great that often it was said 
of him, jokingly, that he never took part in a conversation unless the 
subject was horses. After he left the field labor, he became stable boy. 
Here he spent his entire time and enjoyed every minute of it. His 
mother had been his only confident, and now that interest was trans- 
ferred to Mr. B's horses. No one on the plantation particularly liked 

C W . The slaves whispered that his white skin portrayed 

"bad blood. " When, in the stables, his meditations were noted, the 
beliefs of his fellows were confirmed. His thoughts and schemes were 

said to be of the devil. Everyone overlooked C W 's utter 

loneliness except a little slave girl, who worked in Mr. B's kitchen. 

Often, she would conceal goodies in her apron for C W . She 

encouraged him to talk and yet never attempted to pry into the prob- 
lems of his past life, unasked. In this way she won his confidence and 
finally his love. At times they talked for hours. One day it occurred 
to C W that he had entirely ignored the name of this benev- 
olent person. Upon asking he found it to be Julia his mother's 
name. This proved to be an even better reason why he should like this 
little slave girl. Their interests grew more intimate and personal. 

Julia tried to uplift C W 's conception of life by describing to 

him as best she knew how her God. He told her of his mother's life and 

how misfortune had befallen her at his birth. C W even 

enjoyed being depressed and despairing, for there was always Julia to 
comfort him. Gradually, Julia became the most precious thing in his 
life. The slaves talked and attempted to destroy Julia's friendship 
with C W , but to no avail. 15 

In addition to the psychological factors that tended to 
modify the slave's impulses, there were social forces in the 
organization of slavery that molded his personality and sub- 
jected his impulses to moral restraints. The plantation econ- 
omy, which was more or less self-sufficient, gave numerous 
opportunities for the expression of individual talent. As 
Coppin relates, "Those who had musical talent often be- 

x $ Manuscript document. 


came 'fiddlers' and some of them became quite expert with 
the bow." 16 In addition, there was a division of labor that 
became the basis of social distinctions among the slaves. 
Frederick Douglass has left us an instructive account of the 
division of labor on the plantation and the esteem in which 
the various occupations were held : 

"Uncle" Tobey was the blacksmith, "Uncle" Harry the cartwright, 
and "Uncle" Abel was the shoemaker, and these had assistants in their 
several departments. These mechanics were called "Uncles" by all the 
younger slaves, not because they really sustained that relationship to 
any, but according to plantation etiquette as a mark of respect, due 
from the younger to the older slaves. 

Among other slave notabilities, I found here one called by every- 
body, white and colored, "Uncle" Isaac Copper. Once in a while a 
negro had a surname fastened to him by common consent. This was 
the case with "Uncle" Isaac Copper. When the "Uncle" was dropped, 
he was called Doctor Copper. He was both our Doctor of Medicine 
and our Doctor of Divinity. Where he took his degree I am unable to 
say, but he was too well established in his profession to permit ques- 
tion as to his native skill, or attainments. One qualification he cer- 
tainly had. He was a confirmed cripple, wholly unable to work, and 
was worth nothing for sale in the market. Though lame he was no 
sluggard. He made his crutches do him good service, and was always 
on the alert looking up the sick, and such as were supposed to need his 
aid and counsel. His remedial prescriptions embraced four articles. 
For diseases of the body, epsom salts, and castor oil; for those of the 
soul, the "Lord's prayer," and a few stout hickory switches. 17 

Undoubtedly, the most influential personalities among 
the slaves were their preachers. Douglass received his re- 
ligious training under one of the characters whom he de- 
scribes in the foregoing selection. He relates: 

16 Levi J. Coppin, Unwritten History (Philadelphia, 1920), p. 48. 

'* My Bondage and My Freedom (New York and Auburn, 1855), pp. 30 
and 31. * 


I was early sent to Doctor Isaac Copper, with twenty or thirty other 
children, to learn the Lord's prayer. The old man was seated on a huge 
three-legged oaken stool, armed with several large hickory switches, 
and from the point where he sat, lame as he was, he could reach every 
boy in the room. After standing a while to learn what was expected of 
us, he commanded us to kneel down. This was done, he told us to say 
everything he said. "Our Father" this we repeated after him with 
promptness and uniformity "who art in Heaven" was less promptly 
and uniformly repeated, and the old gentleman paused in the prayer 
to give us a short lecture, and to use his switches on our backs. 18 

These preachers became the interpreters of a religion which 
the slaves had developed on American soil. This religion 
was not a heritage, as many have assumed, from Africa. 19 
In the main, Park seems to be right in his assumption that 

the reason the Negro so readily and eagerly took over from the white 
man his heaven and apocalyptic visions was because these materials 
met the demands of his peculiar racial temperament and furnished 
relief to the emotional strains that were provoked in him by the con- 
ditions of slavery. 20 

Although the house servants, because of their favored posi- 
tion in relation to the master class, were early admitted to 
the churches, it was only with the coming of the Methodists 
and Baptists that the masses of the slaves "found a form 
of Christianity that they could make their own." 21 Often 
independent congregations were set up in which there was 
full opportunity for the development of leadership and char- 
acter in a social world that was essentially the Negro's own 
creation. Although, partly because of this isolation, these 

18 Ibid., p. 31. 

" G. R. Wilson, "The Religion of the American Negro Slave: His Atti- 
tude toward Life and Death," Journal of Negro History, VIII, 41-71. 

ao Robert E. Park, "The Conflict and Fusion of Cultures," Journal of 
Negro History, IV, 128. 

ai Ibid., pp. 118-19. 


churches did not develop moral conceptions and restraints 
identical to those of the masters, they undoubtedly exer- 
cised control over the sex behavior of the slaves. An ob- 
server reported: 

I perceive, also, improvement in their tempers and intercourse as 
husbands and wives. The last point in which improvement is to be 
looked for respects their morality. In this a change for the better is 
seen in the greater frequency of marriage, the greater permanency of 
the relation, and the rebuke which a growing sense of virtue adminis- 
ters to transgressors. If in the church, they are expelled if out of it, 
they lose, in some degree, the standing which they held before among 
their fellow servants." 

Thus the personality of the slave gradually developed in 
accordance with his role on the plantation and in response 
to the attitudes of his fellows which found expression often 
in forms of etiquette suitable to his status. Consciousness 
of his status in the little world of the plantation tended to 
exercise control over his behavior, including his relations 
with the other sex. However, the most fundamental social 
distinctions among the slaves were based upon the differ- 
ence in status between the field hands and the house serv- 
ants. 23 For example, a former slave recounts the advantages 
that came with his elevation to the position of a house 
servant : 

33 "On the Religious Instruction of the Negroes, Together with the Report 
of the Committee, and the Address to the Public," Proceedings of the Meet- 
ing, May 13-15, 1845 (Charleston, S.C.), P- 57- 

3 3Lyell made the following observations concerning the house servants: 
"The colored domestic servants are treated with great indulgence at Tus- 
caloosa. One day some of them gave a supper to a large party of their friends 
in the house of a family which we visited, and they feasted their guests on 
roast turkeys, ice-cream, jellies and cakes" (Charles Lyell, Second Visit to the 
United States [New York, 1849], H, 7 2 > * n Phillips, Documentary History of 
American Industrial Society, II, 46). 


I was now made a house slave. My duties were to wait on the table 
and help in the kitchen. I was extremely glad of this promotion, as it 
afforded me a better chance of obtaining good food At this peri- 
od I had a tolerably good time of it, being employed in the kitchen 
helping to cook, or waiting at the table, and listening to the conversa- 
tion going on, I learned many things of which the field hands were 
entirely ignorant. 24 

In the social life of the slaves the superior status of the 
house servants was generally recognized. Steward, a former 
slave, wrote: 

It was about ten o'clock when the aristocratic slaves began to 
assemble, dressed in the cast-off finery of their master and mistress, 
swelling out and putting on airs in imitation of those they were forced 
to obey from day to day 

House servants were of course, "the stars" of the party; all eyes 
were turned to them to see how they conducted, for they, among 
slaves, are what a military man would call "fugle-men." The field 
hands, and such of them as have generally been excluded from the 
dwelling of their owners, look to the house servant as a pattern of 
politeness and gentility. And indeed, it is often the only method of 
obtaining any knowledge of the manners of what is called "genteel 
society"; hence, they are ever regarded as a privileged class; and are 
sometimes greatly envied, while others are bitterly hated. 25 

The prestige of the house servants was not due entirely 
to artificial distinctions and hollow pretentions. And, al- 
though it may occasion a smile to read that the house girl 
from the "Big House" in "the cast-off clothing of her mis- 
tress" was the "Lady at the Quarters," there was often a 

a * Francis Frederick, Autobiography of Rev. Francis Frederick of Virginia 
(Baltimore, 1869), pp. 9 and 15. 

a * Austin Steward, Twenty-two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman; 
Embracing a Correspondence of Several Years, While President of Wilberforce 
Colony, London, Canada West (Rochester, N.Y., 1857), pp. 30-32. 


fundamental difference between her deportment and that 
of the semibarbarous field hands. 26 

The extent to which the slaves assimilated the ideas, 
sentiments, and beliefs of the whites depended upon the 
range and character of the contacts between the two races. 
At the one extreme there were the impersonal relations of 
the slave-trader, feared and hated by every slave, who 
treated his human wares as utilities; while at the other ex- 
treme the personal and intimate relations between the house 
servants and their masters created truly human relation- 
ships. The relations of the overseer, who lacked both cul- 
ture and worldly goods, to the field hands were similar to 
those of the trader, although the overseer was compelled to 
recognize individual differences among the slaves. But men 
and women of the master race, living in daily contact with 
their slaves, were bound to recognize the personality of those 
with whom they had often shared their joys and sorrows 
from early childhood. 27 The slave on his part was not less 

36 Coppin, op. cit. t p. 37. 

3 7 A former slave recalls : "The old colonel was a very easy going man, kind 
and generous, and loved by all the plantation people. We colored folks did 
what he ask us to because we liked him. He was kind to us and very seldom 
resorted to punishment. Almost as soon as I was able to toddle about, I 
would follow him over the plantation whenever he would let me. It was be- 
cause of his fondness for me as a little fellow that I was given his name" 
(Robert Anderson, From Slavery to Affluence: Memoirs of Robert Anderson, 
Ex-slave [Hemingsford, Neb., 1927], p. 19). At the same time intimate and 
personal relations between the two races permitted the development of per- 
sonal antagonisms and hatred as well as feelings of affection and sympathy. 
Lewis Clarke, a mulatto slave, complained: "There were four house-slaves 
in this family, including myself, and though we had not, in all respects, so 
hard work as the field hands, yet in many things our condition was much 
worse. We were constantly exposed to the whims and passions of every mem- 
ber of the family; from the least to the greatest, their anger was wreaked 
upon us" (Narrative of the Sujferings of tewis and Milton Clarke, Sons of a 


affected by this association, for he often developed senti- 
ments of loyalty that withstood the severest ordeals. But, 
more than that, the slave tended to take over the attitudes 
and sentiments of his master toward religion, sex and mar- 
riage, and the other relations of life. 

Where the white and black children were reared together, 
the process of assimilation was more thoroughgoing. Doug- 
lass attributed the purity of his speech to association with 
his master's son : 

I have been often asked during the earlier part of my free life at the 
north, how I happened to have so little of the slave accent in my 
speech. The mystery is in some measure explained by my association 
with Daniel Lloyd, the youngest son of Col. Edward Lloyd. The law 
of compensation holds here as well as elsewhere. While this lad could 
not associate with ignorance without sharing its shade, he could not 
give his black playmates his company without giving them his superior 
intelligence as well. Without knowing this, or caring about it at the 
time, I, for some cause or other, was attracted to him and was much 
his companion. 38 

The manner in which the slave assimilated the language 
of the whites indicates the process by which the slave took 
over the ideas and attitudes of the master race. Childhood 

Soldier of the Revolution, during a Captivity of More than Twenty Years among 
the Slaveholders of Kentucky, One of the So-called Christian States of North 
America [Boston, 1846], pp. 15-16). In the following incident we see how in 
some cases assimilation of the manners of the whites destroyed the social 
distance that was supposed to exist between master and slave and therefore 
created resentment on the part of the former: " Unconsciously he partook 
more or less of the forms of life, language, traits and habits of the 'white 
folks,' even to the extent that suddenly his mistress discovered that he was 
adopting their language entirely which she solemnly forbade. While giving 
ready promise to resume the plantation patois, he found it impossible" 
(D. Webster Davis, The Life and Public Services of Rev. William Washington 
Browne [Philadelphia, 1910], p. 13). 


attachments, which developed during play and other ac- 
tivities carried on in common, created similarity of senti- 
ment and feelings. In fact, it was often necessary for masters 
to interfere and define the proper relations and aspirations 
of the children of the two races. 29 Lunsford Lane, who pur- 
chased his freedom and established himself as a successful 
merchant in Raleigh, wrote concerning his childhood: 

My early boyhood [was spent] in playing with the other boys and 
girls, colored and white, in the yard, and occasionally doing such little 
matters of labor as one of so young years could. I knew no difference 
between myself and the white children; nor did they seem to know any 
in turn. Sometimes my master would come out and give a biscuit to 
me, and another to one of his own white boys; but I did not perceive 

the difference between us When I began to work, I discovered 

the difference between myself and my master's white children. They 
began to order me about, and were told to do so by my master and 
mistress. 30 

But even after the children had grown up and assumed their 
respective roles as master and slave, those slaves who had 
lived in close association with the whites tended to identify 

39 The following incident is related in the biography of a former slave who 
became an officer in the United States Army: "Little Tommy, feeling him- 
self the master and imitating his teacher, was found by Miss Bett giving his 
orders. He was told after this discovery that he was doing wrong, that he 
must not continue the practice; but boy-like he persisted in doing the very 
thing he was forbidden to do. Allen was told that he must not play school 
with Tommy, but he had gotten the habit, and the spirit had entered his 
soul and brain, and so he continued to play school and encourage Tommy in 
the sport. Miss Bett finding the nursery school still doing business at the 
same old stand, after repeated warnings, finally decided to break it up for 
good. Her method was that of elimination. She told Mr. Starbird and he 
forthwith found another home for Allen" (Charles Alexander, Battles and 
Victories of Allen Allensworth [Boston, 1914], p. 14). 

3 The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, N.C. (Boston, 
1842), pp. 5-6, 7. 


themselves with their masters. This is evident in a recent 
autobiography of a former slave: 

There was a social distinction with the slaves. The house and per- 
sonal servants were on a higher social plane than the field slaves, while 
the colored persons, who would associate with the "po' white trash" 
were practically outcasts, and held in very great contempt. The slaves 
belonging to the lower class of white folks, were not considered on the 
same level as those belonging to the "quality folks," and the slaves of 
these families were always proud of, and bragged of their connection 
with the better families. 31 

Where slavery developed as a patriarchal institution, a 
certain amount of formal religious instruction supplemented 
the unconscious assimilation of the white man's moral and 
religious ideas. In addition to being required to be present 
at family prayers, the slaves were given regular religious 
instruction. The master's regard for the moral development 
of the slave included in some cases a close supervision of 
their conduct in sex matters and marriage relations. The 
historian of a Negro family that developed considerable 
stability and organization under a patriarchal household 
writes as follows: 

Among Miss SalhVs slaves were great grandmothers, grandmothers, 
mothers, children, grand children, and great grandchildren, for she 
seldom sold any of her people. Her women were taught and required 
to be as chaste, as were her nieces. All received great care, and much 
attention from "Miss Sallie" personally, requiring them to sleep in the 
great house until their marriage 

It was a rare thing, indeed, for slave girls to reach majority before 
being married or becoming mothers. Be it said to the credit of Sarah O. 
Hilleary that she taught those girls the value of a good name, and 
personally watched over them so carefully that it was known far and 
near. She allowed them to be married in her dining room instead of in 
the cabin, and, with ceremony. She always had to see and pass upon 

J 1 Robert Anderson, op. /., p. 29. 


the man who was to marry one of her maids. She did all she could to 
impress them with the importance of being clean, honest, truthful, 
industrious, and religious. 32 

Where such care was exercised in the rearing of slave 
girls, it was to be expected that some concern would be 
shown for the marriage alliances which they formed. In the 
case referred to above, the suitors were only allowed to visit 
the slave girls after they had "passed Miss Sallie's inspec- 
tion. " 33 Thus the male slaves became conscious of distinc- 
tions in character and status among themselves as well as 
among the women. In fact, some slaves took pride in the 
fact that they were able to form marriage alliances with 
females in certain families. While the authority of the slave 
husband or father was always more or less limited and sub- 
ject to the will of the masters, certain responsibilities were 
placed upon him when he assumed the marriage relation- 
ship. When a prospective husband applied for permission 
to marry a slave woman, her master questioned him as 

I next went to her master, Mr. Boylan, and asked him, according to 
the custom, if I might "marry this woman." His reply was, "Yes, if 
you will behave yourself." I told him I would. "And make her behave 
herself?" To this I also assented; and then proceeded to ask the ap- 
probation of my master, which was granted. So in May 1828, I was 
bound as fast in wedlock as a slave can be.34 

3* Nellie Arnold Plummer, Out of the Depths or the Triumph of the Cross 
(Hyattsville, Md., 1927), pp. 19-20. 

" Ibid ., p. 28. However, even Miss Sallie believed that some limitations 
should be placed upon the development of the slave's personality, for, 
according to the historian of the family, "when she found Adam [a suitor] 
had taught William Arnold how to read and write, she said that had she 
known that Adam was a 'lettered' man she would never have let him on her 
place" (ibid.). 

*< Lane, op. cit. t p. u. 


While the duration of marriage as well as its inception 
were subject to the will of the masters, there were other 
factors affecting its permanency. We have seen how easily 
slave marriages that were based upon the mere desire to 
satisfy sexual hunger were dissolved. Even where marriages 
were entered into because of mutual attraction, their per- 
manency depended upon prolonged association between the 
sexes, during which common interests and strong attach- 
ments developed. For example, where husband and wife 
were permitted to cultivate patches as a means of supplying 
themselves with extra food or better clothing, co-operation 
for these common ends helped to strengthen the bonds be- 
tween them. It seems, too, in some instances that a sort of 
public opinion in the slave community had some effect on 
the significance of the marriage bonds. It is reported that 
a slave woman was spoken to by her friends "about going 
with a man so soon after the death of her husband. " 3S Chil- 
dren in the slave household often strengthened the bond 
between husband and wife; and, though the mother was 
generally the more dependable parent in the family, the 
father often developed strong attachments for his family 
and took pride in his position. Where marriage and family 
life among the slaves achieved this high development, the 
organization of slavery had become a settled way of life 
in which the slave's interest in marriage and family life be- 
came a part of the expression of his personality. 

We can see to what extent such development of family 
life could be achieved under favorable circumstances in the 
case of the family of Pennington, who, after being released 
from slavery, became a distinguished minister and received 

John Anderson, The Story of the Life of John Anderson, the Fugitive 
Slave (London, 1863), p. 45. 


the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of 
Heidelberg. 36 Pennington's family was a well-organized so- 
cial group in which paternal authority was firmly estab- 
lished. This was partly due to the fact that his father, a 
highly skilled mechanic, was able to provide for his family. 
The extent to which a family consciousness had developed is 
shown in the reaction of the family to punishment inflicted 
upon Pennington's father: 

This act created an open rupture with our family each member 
felt the deep insult that had been inflicted upon our head; the spirit of 
the whole family was roused; we talked of it in our nigjitly gatherings, 

and showed it in our daily melancholy aspect I had always 

aimed to be trustworthy; and feeling a high degree of mechanical 
pride; I had aimed to do my work with dispatch and skill; my black- 
smith's pride and taste was one thing that had reconciled me so long 
to remain a slave. I sought to distinguish myself in the finer branches 
of the business by invention and finish; I frequently tried my hand at 
making guns and pistols, putting blades in pen knives, making fancy 
hammers, hatchets, sword-canes, &c., &c. Besides I used to assist my 
father at night in making strawhats and willow baskets, by which 
means we supplied our family with little articles of food, clothing and 
luxury, which slaves in the mildest form of the system never get from 
the master; but after this, I found that my mechanic's pleasure and 
pride were gone. I thought of nothing but the family disgrace under 
which we were smarting, and how to get out of it. 37 

Thus, the very families that had achieved considerable 
organization and had assimilated most completely the folk- 
ways and mores of the whites were, in spite of their internal 
character, always insecure. Despite Miss Sallie's solicitude 
for her slaves' welfare, at her death slave families that had 

# See Carter G. Woodson, The Negro in Our History (5th ed.; Washington, 
D.C., 1928), pp. 276-77- 

J. W. C. Pennington, The Fugitive Blacksmith; or Events in the History 
of James W. C. Pennington (London, 1850), pp. 7-9. 


been together for decades were scattered. 38 No matter how 
far the moralization of the slave went, his group life, including 
his most intimate relations in his family, could not resist the 
fundamental economic forces inherent in the slave system. 

In this chapter we have traversed the road by which the 
Negro, stripped of his cultural heritage, acquired a new per- 
sonality on American soil. At first his impulses knew no 
restraint except that imposed by the physical force of those 
that had enslaved him. But soon even the strongest of these 
impulses, sexual hunger, was modified and controlled by 
feelings of tenderness and sympathy toward those who 
shared his bondage and enabled him to escape from loneli- 
ness and isolation. Moreover, bondage could not crush out 
individual talent, and the division of labor on the plantation 
promoted mental differentiation and became the basis of 
differences in status. Then, too, the emergence of the 
slave as a human being was facilitated by his assimilation 
into the household of the master race. There he took over 
more or less the ideas and attitudes and morals and man- 
ners of his masters. His marriage and family relations re- 
flected the different stages and aspects of this process. Where 
the assimilation of Western mores went farthest and the de- 
velopment of personality was highest, the organization of 
family life approached most closely the pattern of white 
civilization. But in the end fundamental economic forces 
and material interests might shatter the toughest bonds of 
familial sentiments and parental love. Only the bond be- 
tween the mother and her child continually resisted the dis- 
ruptive effect of economic interests that were often inimical 
to family life among the slaves. Consequently, under all 
conditions of slavery, the Negro mother remained the most 
dependable and important figure in the family. 

** Plummer, op. cit. t p. 34. 


Strange to say, the idealized picture of the Negro mother 
has not grown out of the stories of her sacrifices and devo- 
tion to her own children but has emerged from the tradition 
of the Negro mammy a romantic figure in whom maternal 
love as a vicarious sentiment has become embodied. There 
is plenty of evidence to give a solid background to the 
familiar picture stories of cold, and often inhuman, indif- 
ference toward her own offspring and undying devotion to 
the children of the master race. "The devotion of the nurses 
of these foster-children was greater than their love for their 
own" is the comment of one observer, who supports her 
generalizations with the following instance: 

One of them, with a baby at home very sick, left it to stay with the 
white child. This one she insisted on walking the night through, be- 
cause he was roaring with the colic, though the mistress entirely dis- 
approved and urged her to go home to her own child, whose illness was 
more serious, if less noisy, than the white nursling with its colic. 1 

This seems all the more strange when we recall the uni- 
versal testimony of travelers and missionaries that the love 
of the African mother for her children is unsurpassed in 
any part of the world. "Maternal affection (neither sup- 
pressed by the restraints, nor diverted by the solicitudes of 
civilized life) is everywhere conspicuous among them," wrote 
Mungo Park, "and creates a correspondent return of tender- 
ness in the child." 2 He reports the following incident: 

1 Susan Smedes, A Southern Planter (Baltimore, 1887), p. 50. 
* The Travels of Mungo Park (New York, n.d.), p. 202. 



In the course of the day, several women, hearing that I was going 
to Sego, came and begged me to inquire of Mansong, the King, what 
was become of their children. One woman in particular, told me that 
her son's name was Mamadee; that he was no heathen, but prayed to 
God morning and evening, and had been taken from her about three 
years ago, by Mansong's army; since which she had never heard of 
him. She said she often dreamed about him; and begged me, if I 
should see him, either in Bambarra, or in my own country, to tell him 
that his mother and sister were still alive. 3 

Likewise, we learn that in East Africa mothers offered them- 
selves to the slave-raiders in order to save their sons, and 
Hottentot women refused food during famines until their 
children were fed. 4 

How are we to explain this contrast between the native 
Negro mother and her descendants in America? Surely 
transportation to the New World could not have eradicated 
fundamental impulses and instinctive feelings. 

The dehumanizing of the Negro began before he left the 
shores of Africa. 5 To pregnant women who formed a part of 
the slave caravans motherhood meant only a burden and an 
accentuation of their miseries. Maternal feeling was choked 
and dried up in mothers who had to bear children, in addi- 

3 Ibid., pp. 142-43. 

< See Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York, 1927), I, 128. 

5 An official of the Dutch West India Company on the African coast 
wrote as follows concerning the Negro's reputed indifference to family ties 
where the slave trade was carried on: "Not a few in our country fondly 
imagine that parents here sell their children, men their wives, and one 
brother the other: but those who think so deceive themselves; for this never 
happens on any other account but that of necessity, or some great crime. 
But most of the slaves that are offered to us are prisoners of war, which are 
sold by the victors as their booty" ("A New and Accurate Description of the 
Coast of Guinea, Divided into the Gold, the Slave, and the Ivory Coasts 
etc.," in Elizabeth Donnan [ed.], Documents Illustrative of the History of the 
Slave Trade to America [Washington, D.C., 1930], I, 441). 


tion to loads of corn or rice, on their backs during marches 
of eight to fourteen hours. 6 Nor did life in the slave pens on 
the coast, where they were chained and branded and some- 
times starved, mitigate the sufferings of motherhood. 

In the selection of Negroes for the cargoes of the slave 
ships, their physical condition and their suitability for the 
specific requirements of the trade were the only factors of 
moment to the traders. When William Ellery, the father of 
one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, in- 
structed the captain of his slaver: "If you have a good 
Trade for Negroes may purchase forty or Fifty Negroes, 
get most of them mere Boys and Girl, some Men, let them 
be Young, No very small Children," 7 it is unlikely that the 
faithful captain in obeying his orders cared much about the 
feelings of the Negro mothers who had to surrender their 
children. During the Middle Passage that followed the gath- 
ering of slaves on the coast, the last spark of maternal feel- 
ing was probably smothered in the breasts of many mothers 
who were packed spoon fashion between decks and often 
gave birth to children in the scalding perspiration from the 
human cargo. Then whatever was left of maternal senti- 
ment had to undergo another ordeal in the slave markets of 
the New World. 

Scarcely more regard was shown for the humanity of the 
slaves in the American markets than in those of Africa. To 
be sure, humanitarian sentiment was more likely to make 
itself felt in the American communities than among the ad- 
venturers and criminals who frequented the slave markets 
of Africa. Moreover, in the slave markets of Charleston and 

6 See Thomas P. Buxton, The African Slave Trade and Its Remedy (Lon- 
don, 1840), pp. 102-6. 

* Quoted in Donnan, op. cit., Ill, 138. 


Richmond it was to the economic advantage of those who 
bought and sold slaves to see that infants did not die be- 
cause of the lack of maternal care. But since, as a South 
Carolina court held in 1809, "the young of slaves .... stand 
on the same footing as other animals," the relation of 
mothers to their children was recognized not because of its 
human or social significance but because of the property 
interests involved in the relationship. 8 

In some cases the affectional ties between mother and 
children survived the ordeals of the slave markets and the 
Middle Passage and were perhaps strengthened by common 
suffering. But the characteristic attitudes and sentiments 
which the slave mother developed in America grew out of 
her experiences with pregnancy and childbirth and her rela- 
tions with her offspring in the new environment. Where 
slave women were maintained as breeders 9 and enjoyed cer- 

* M'Vaughters v. Elder, 2 Brevard 307, April, 1809. The intestate "left 
at his death a female slave, named Bet, and a mare, named Pol Jones, which 
property, after his death, came into the possession of Margaret M'Grew, 
.... next of kin, .... the wench had two children, who were born while 
she was in the possession of Mrs. M'Grew. The mare died while in Mrs. 
M' Crew's possession, having had three colts during the time of her being 

in the possession of Mrs. M'Grew, [She] died .... without ever 

having administered .... the plaintiff obtained letters of administration" 
(Helen Tunnicliff Catterall [ed.], Judicial Cases concerning American Slavery 
and the Negro [Washington, D.C., 1929], II, 293). 

Apologists for slavery have often denied that Negro women were used 
for breeding purposes. The evidence is too clear to leave any doubt as to the 
existence of the practice. The following advertisement, which appeared in 
the Charleston (S. C.) City Gazette, March 10, 1796, is typical of references 
to women sold for breeding purposes: 

'These negroes are sold free from all incumbrances, with warranted titles, 
and are sold on account of their present Owner's declining the Planting Busi- 
ness, and not for any other reason; they are not Negroes selected out of a 
larger gang for the purpose of a sale, but are prime, their present Owner, 
with great trouble and expence, selected them out of many for several years 


tain indulgences and privileges because of their position, the 
experience of pregnancy and childbirth was likely to cause 
them to look upon their children as the source of these 
favors. 10 On the other hand, where slave women were forced 
into cohabitation and pregnancy, and childbirth brought no 
release from labor, they might develop a distinct antipathy 
toward their offspring." Even under the more normal con- 

past. They were purchased for stock and breeding Negroes, and to any 
Planter who particularly wanted them for that purpose, they are a very 
choice and desirable gang" (Ulrich B. Phillips, Documentary History of 
American Industrial Society: Plantation and Frontier [Cleveland, 1910-11], 
H> 57-58). See Frederic Bancroft, Slave-trading in the Old South (Balti- 
more, 1931), pp. 67-87, and Arthur W. Calhoun, A Social History of the 
American Family from Colonial Times to the Present (Cleveland, 1917-18), 
II, 243-45. 

10 The following instructions were sent to an agent for the management 
of a plantation in Virginia in 1759: "The breeding wenches particularly, 
you must instruct the overseers to be kind and indulgent to, and not to 
force them when with child upon any service or hardship that will be in- 
jurious to them and that they have every necessary when in that condition 
that is needful for them, and the children to be well looked after and to 
give them every spring and fall the Jerusalem oak seed for a week together 
and that none of them suffer in time of sickness for want of proper care" 
(Calhoun, op. cit., I, 327). 

11 A former slave wrote the following concerning the treatment of women 
by the overseer: "On the estate I am speaking of, those women who had 
sucking children suffered much from their breasts becoming full of milk, the 
infants being left at home; they therefore could not keep up with the other 
hands: I have seen the overseer beat them with raw hide, so that the blood 
and milk flew mingled from their breasts. A woman who gives offence in the 
field, and is large in the family way, is compelled to lie down over a hole 
made to receive her corpulency, and is flogged with the whip, or beat with a 
paddle, which had holes in it; at every stroke comes a blister. One of my 
sisters was so severely punished in this way, that labor was brought on, and 
the child was born in the field. This very overseer, Mr. Brooks, killed in this 
manner a girl named Mary: her father and mother were in the field at the 
time" (Moses Grandy, Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy; Late a Slave 
in the United States of America [Boston, 1844], p. 18). 


ditions of slavery, childbirth could not have had the same 
significance for the slave mother as for the African mother. 
In Africa tribal customs and taboos tended to fix the 
mother's attitude toward her child before it was born. In 
America this traditional element in the shaping of maternal 
feeling was absent. Consequently, the development of ma- 
ternal feeling was dependent largely upon the physiological 
and emotional responses of the mother to her child." 

Generally, during the period of pregnancy, the slave 
woman's labor was reduced, and on the birth of a child she 
received additional clothes and rations. 13 But the following 
letter of an overseer indicates that the needs of the mothers 
and their newborn children were not always promptly met : 

Charlotte & Venus & Mary & Little Sary have all had children and 
have not received their baby clothes also Hetty & Sary & Coteler will 
want baby clothes. I see a Blanket for the old fellow Sampson he is 
dead. I thought I wrote to you that he was dead. Little Peggy Sarys 
daughter has not ever drawn any Blanket at all, and when they come I 
think it would be right to give her the Blanket that was sent to 
Sampson. 14 

" Concerning the biologically inherited elements in the so-called ' 'ma- 
ternal instinct," Bernard writes: "It is difficult to separate early acquire- 
ments through the imitation process from biological inheritance without 
considerable intensive investigation. But it is doubtful if more than the re- 
sponse to touch, temperature and odor stimuli from the child by fondling, 
holding and licking or kissing, a more or less vague unorganized emotional 
response to its cries, which chiefly manifests itself in movement toward the 
child, vague answering cries and the discharge of milk upon certain definite 
stimuli of pressure upon the breast, can be said to be inherited by the human 
mother" (L. L. Bernard, Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology [New York, 
1924], p. 326; see also Briffault, op. cit. f I, 110-16). 

** Frances A. Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 
(New York, 1863), p. 63. 

14 Letter of Elisha Cain, overseer, on Retreat Plantation, Jefferson Coun- 
ty, Georgia, to his employer, Miss Mary Telfair, Savannah, November 20, 
1836, in Phillips, op. cit., I, 333-34. 


As soon as possible after childbirth, the mother was re- 
quired to return to the fields, often taking her unweaned 
child along. 15 In some cases the mothers were permitted to 
return to the cabin in order to nurse the infant who was 
left either alone or in the charge of a child. 16 The situation 
described by Kemble was typical of many plantations: 

It is true that every able-bodied woman is made the most of in 
being driven afield as long as, under all and any circumstances, she is 
able to wield a hoe; but, on the other hand, stout, hale, hearty girls and 
boys, of from eight to twelve and older, are allowed to lounge about , 
filthy and idle, with no pretense of an occupation but what they call 
"tend baby," i.e., see to the life and limbs of the little slave infants, to 
whose mothers, working in distant fields, they carry them during the 
day to be suckled, and for the rest of the time leave them to crawl and 
kick in the filthy cabins or on the broiling sand which surrounds them. 17 

Consequently, where such limitations were placed upon 
the mother's spontaneous emotional responses to the needs 
of her children and where even her suckling and fondling of 

'* "The bell rings, at four o'clock in the morning, and they have half an 
hour to get ready. Men and women start together, and the women must 
work as steadily as the men, and perform the same tasks as the men. If the 
plantation is far from the house, the sucking children are taken out and 
kept in the field all day. If the cabins are near, the women are permitted to 
go in two or three times a day to their infant children. The mother is driven 
out when the child is three to four weeks old" (Lewis Clarke, Narrative of 
the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, Sons of a Soldier of the Revolution 
[Boston, 1846], p. 127). 

16 "At this period," writes a former slave concerning his childhood, "my 
principal occupation was to nurse my little brother whilst my mother worked 
in the field. Almost all the slave children have to do the nursing; the big 
taking care of the small, who often come poorly off in consequence. I know 
this was my little brother's case. I used to lay him in the shade, under a 
tree, sometimes, and go to play, or curl myself up under a hedge, and take 
a sleep" (John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia [London, 1855], pp. 3-4). 

v Op. cit., pp. 121-22. 


them were restricted, it was not unnatural that she often 
showed little attachment to her offspring. 

A slaveholder, who loved "to recall the patriarchal re- 
sponsibility and tenderness" which her father "felt for his 
poor, ignorant, dependent slaves," tells the following story 
to "show that the master's feelings are sometimes even 
deeper than the mother's": 

One of my slaves had an infant child two months old who was 
attacked with an affection of the windpipe. I never saw such extreme 
suffering; it was one continual spasm and struggle for breath. The 
physician visited it several times every day, but could give no relief. 
The poor little sufferer seemed as if it would neither live nor die. These 
extreme tortures lasted a whole week before it breathed its last; and 
my own mind was so excited by its sharp and constant convulsive 
shrieks, that I never left it night or day, and could not sleep, even a 
moment, sitting by its side; and yet its own mother slept soundly at 
the foot of the bed, not because she was fatigued, for she was required 
to do nothing but nurse the dying child. 18 

While the pathos expressed here is understandable, one would 
require a knowledge of the mother's experience during preg- 
nancy and childbirth and her subsequent relations with her 
infant in order to decide whether her behavior was unnatural 
or extraordinary. However, one might ask: Why were these 
slave women, in the words of the same informant, "the most 
enthusiastically fond foster-mothers, when they [were] called 
upon to nurse the infant child of their owners"? 19 

Often the relations of the foster-mother or "mammy" to 
her "white children" offered greater scope for the expression 
of the emotions and impulses characteristic of maternal love 
than the contacts which she had with her own offspring. 

18 H. B. Schoolcraft, By a Southern Lady: Letters on the Condition of the 
African Race in the United States (Philadelphia, 1852), pp. 13-14. 
"Ibid., p. 14. 


The attachment and devotion which the "mammy" showed 
for the white children began before the children were born. 
The "mammy," who was always an important member of 
the household, attended her mistress during pregnancy and 
took under her care the infant as soon as it was born. Often 
she, instead of the mother, suckled the child and, if the child 
was a girl, was never separated from her until she was grown. 
Miss Bremer has left a picture of one of these foster-mothers 
sitting "like a horrid specter, black and silent by the altar," 
during the wedding of her foster-child from whom she 
"could not bear the thought of parting." 20 If these black 
foster-mothers showed more maternal affection and devo- 
tion for their charges than they or their black sisters showed 
for their own offspring, it was due to the emotional and bio- 
logical dependence that developed between them as the re- 
sult of this intimate association. Moreover, where this inti- 
mate association extended over several generations and the 
"mammy" became assimilated into the master's household, 
tradition tended to define her role and to inculcate in her 
sentiments proper to her statup." 

It should not be inferred from what has been said con- 
cerning the Negro woman's devotion to the children of the 
master race that she never developed a deep and lasting 
sentiment for her own children. In the slave cabin, where 
she was generally mistress, she often gathered about her a 

30 Quoted in Calhoun, op. cit., II, 284. 

31 Sometimes it appears that the mistress played the part of mother to 
the slaves. Mrs. Smedes writes: "Uncle Isaac's boast was that he was a 
child of the same year as the master, and that the master's mother had given 
to him in her own arms some of the baby Thomas's milk, as there was more 
of it than he wanted. He would draw himself up as he added, 'I called marster 
brother till I was a right big boy, an 1 I called his mother ma till I was old 
enough to know better an* to stop it myself. She never tole me to stop* " 
(op. cit., p. 33). 


numerous progeny, in spite of miscarriages and a high infant 
mortality. 22 After the day's labor in the field under an un- 

32 Miss Kemble enters in her Journal, pp. 190-91, the following informa- 
tion relative to the size of slave families, miscarriages, and infant mortality: 

"Fanny has had six children; all dead but one. She came to beg to have 
her work in the field lightened. 

"Nanny has had three children; two of them dead. She came to implore 
that the rule of sending them into the field three weeks after their confine- 
ment might be altered. 

"Leah, Caesar's wife, has had six children; three are dead. 

"Sophy, Lewis's wife, came to beg for some old linen. She is suffering 
fearfully; has had ten children; five of them are dead. The principal favor she 
asked was a piece of meat, which I gave her. 

"Sally, Scipio's wife, has had two miscarriages and three children born, 
one of whom is dead. She came complaining of incessant pain and weakness 
in her back. This woman was a mulatto daughter of a slave called Sophy, 
by a white man of the name of Walker, who visited the plantation. 

"Charlotte, Renty's wife, had had two miscarriages, and was with child 
again. She was almost crippled with rheumatism, and showed me a pair of 
poor swollen knees that made my heart ache. I have promised her a pair of 
flannel trowsers, which I must forthwith set about making. 

"Sarah, Stephen's wife this woman's case and history were alike de- 
plorable. She had had four miscarriages, had brought seven children into the 
world, five of whom were dead, and was again with child. She complained of 
dreadful pains in the back, and an internal tumor which swells with the 
exertion of working in the fields; probably, I think, she is ruptured." 

The following entries concerning births and deaths of children were made 
by an overseer on a plantation in Florida, 1851 (Ulrich B. Phillips and James 
D. Glunt [eds.], Florida Plantation Records from the Papers of George Noble 
Jones [St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society, 1927], pp. 437-38 [hereafter 
cited as Florida Plantation Records}) : 


Florer was confined this morning with a male Child, Jany. 27, 1851. 

May zSth, Gate was delivered of a Female Child this morning. 

June 4th, Martha was delivered of a male child at 12 oclock today. 

June i3th, Long Mariah was delivered of a male Child today at twelve oclock. 

August 1 7th, B. Mariah was delivered of a male child this morning. 


August 4th, Catherine, a child departed this life today at 2 oclock. 

September i8th, one Child Departed this life today at ten oclock; by the name of Amy. 

December 31. B. Mariers Child Billy died this morning. 


sympathetic overseer, she could find warmth and sympathy 
and appreciation among her children and kinsmen. There 
the mother could give full rein to her tender feelings and 
kindly impulses. "One of my earliest recollections/' writes 
Booker T. Washington, "is that of my mother cooking a 
chicken late at night, and awakening her children for the 
purpose of feeding them." 23 The devotion of the mothers to 
their own children was often demonstrated in their sacri- 
fices to see them when they were separated from them. 
Douglass' childhood recollections of his mother, who lived 
twelve miles from him, were of "a few hasty visits made in 
the night on foot, after the daily tasks were over, and when 
she was under the necessity of returning in time to respond to 
the driver's call to the field in the early morning." 24 

It is not surprising, then, to find that slave mothers, in- 
stead of viewing with indifference the sale, or loss otherwise, 
of their children, often put up a stubborn resistance and 
suffered cruel punishments to prevent separation from 
them. 25 When Loguen's brothers and sisters were taken from 
his mother, she was "taken into the room which was used 
for weaving coarse cloth for the negroes and fastened se- 
curely to the loom, where she remained, raving and moaning 

*3 Up from Slavery (New York, 1902), p. 4. 

a * Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York and 
Auburn, 1855), p. 15. 

a s The fact that slave families were often divided when it was to the 
economic advantage of the owners is too well established to take seriously 
the denials of those who have idealized slavery. Washington Irving, who 
regarded the separation of children from their parents as a peculiar evil of 
slavery, rationalized thus: "But are not white people so, by schooling, mar- 
riage, business, etc." (The Journals of Washington Irving, ed. William P. 
Trent and George S. Hellman [Boston, 1919], III, 115). See Bancroft, op. 
cit., chap, ix, for an unbiased statement concerning the dividing of families. 


until morning." 26 Another slave recounts his mother's ef- 
forts to prevent her children from being sold : 

The master, Billy Grandy, whose slave I was born, was a hard 
drinking man; he sold away many slaves. I remember four sisters and 
four brothers; my mother had more children, but they were dead or 
sold away before I can remember. I was the youngest. I remember 
well my mother often hid us all in the woods, to prevent master selling 
us. When we wanted water, she sought for it in any hole or puddle, 
formed by falling trees or other wise: it was often full of tadpoles and 
insects: she strained it, and gave it round to each of us in the hollow 
of her hand. For food, she gathered berries in the woods, got potatoes, 
raw corn, &c. After a time the master would send word to her to come 
in, promising he would not sell us. But, at length, persons came, who 
agreed to give the prices he set on us. His wife, with much to be done, 
prevailed on him not to sell me; but he sold my brother, who was a 
little boy. My mother, frantic with grief, resisted their taking her 
child away; she was beaten and held down: she fainted, and when she 
came to herself, her boy was gone. She made much outcry, for which 
the master tied her up to a peach tree in the yard, and flogged her. 27 

When Josiah Henson's master died, and it was necessary to 
sell the slaves in order to divide the estate among the heirs, 
he says : 

We were all put up at auction and sold to the highest bidder, and 
scattered over various parts of the country. My brothers and sisters 
were bid off one by one, while my mother, holding my hand, looked 
on in an agony of grief, the cause of which I but ill understood at 
first, but which dawned on my mind with dreadful clearness, as the 
sale proceeded. My mother was then separated from me, and put up 
in her turn. She was bought by a man named Isaac R., residing in 
Montgomery county, and then I was offered to the assembled pur- 
chasers. My mother, half distracted with the parting forever from 
all her children, pushed through the crowd, while the bidding for me 
was going on, to the spot where R. was standing. She fell at his feet, 

36 J. W. Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman 
(Syracuse, 1859), pp. 119-20. 
a ' Grandy, op. cit., pp. 5-6. 


and clung to his knees, entreating him in tones that a mother only 
could command, to buy her BABY as well as herself, and spare to her 
one of her little ones at least. Will it, can it be believed that this 
man, thus appealed to, was capable not merely of turning a deaf ear 
to her supplication, but of disengaging himself from her with such 
violent blows and kicks, as to reduce to the necessity of creeping out 
of his reach. 28 

We need not rely solely on the slave's word concerning the 
strength of the mother's affection for her children; indirect 
evidence, as well as contemporary observations, gives the 
same testimony. Concerning the slave mother's attachment 
for her children, the remark of an overseer in reply to an- 
other who spoke of the danger of losing slaves when they 
were taken North, is significant: 

Oh, stuff and nonsense, I take care when my wife goes North with 
the children, to send Lucy with her; her children are down here, and 
I defy all the Abolitionists in creation to get her to stay North.* 9 

In the following account of a sale we learn that the mother's 
distress at the separation from her child was sufficient to 
cause it to be purchased with her : 

Gambling v. Read, Meigs 281, December 1838. 1837, Gambling 
sold Read, Hannah, a female slave for $1200, .... Hannah had a 
young child, (a boy, three months old,) and her distress at the separa- 
tion from it induced Read to propose to purchase it; .... agreed that 
he should have it for 150 dollars.^ 

The Alexandria Gazette's comment on the slave trade in the 
national capital gives a vivid picture of the effect of selling 
children on the bereft mothers: 

Here you may behold fathers and mothers leaving behind them 
the dearest objects of affection, and moving slowly along in the mute 
agony of despair; there, the young mother, sobbing over the infant 

38 The Life of Josiah Benson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of 
Canada, as Narrated by Himself (Boston, 1844), pp. 3-4. 

29 Kemble, op. cit., pp. 297-98. * Catterall, op. cit., II, 507. 


whose innocent smile seems but to increase her misery. From some 
you will hear the burst of bitter lamentation, while from others the 
loud hysteric laugh breaks forth, denoting still deeper agony. Such is 
but a faint picture of the American slave-trade.-* 1 

Let us return to the cabins at the quarters where the 
slave mothers lived with their children. 32 In spite of the 
numerous separations, the slave mother and her children, 
especially those under ten, were treated as a group. 33 Some- 

31 Quoted in William Wells Brown, Narrative of William W. Brown (Bos- 
ton, 1842), pp. 113-14- 

3* A slave described the quarters where he lived as follows: "About a 
quarter of a mile from the dwelling house, were the huts, or cabins, of the 
plantation slaves, or field hands, standing in rows; much like the Indian 
villages which I have seen in the country of the Cherokees. These cabins 
were thirty-eight in number; generally about fifteen or sixteen feet square; 
built of hewn logs; covered with shingles, and provided with floors of pine 
boards. These houses were all dry and comfortable and were provided with 
chimnies; so that the people when in them, were well sheltered from the in- 
clemencies of the weather. In this practice of keeping their slaves, well 
sheltered at night, the southern planters are pretty uniform; for they know 
that upon this circumstance, more than any other in that climate, depends 
the health of the slave, and consequently his value. In these thirty-eight 
cabins, were lodged two hundred and fifty people, of all ages, sexes, and 
sizes. Ten or twelve were generally employed in the garden and about the 
house" (Charles Ball, Slavery in the United States [Lewistown, Pa., 1836], 
p. 107). 

33 The following advertisement from the Charleston (S.C.) City Gazette, 
February 21, 1825, is typical of a sale of a group of slaves (Phillips, op. 
MI, S 8): 


A Wench, complete cook, washer and ironer, and her 4 children a Boy 12, another 9, a 
Girl 5, that sews; and a Girl about 4 years old. 

Another Family a Wench, complete washer and ironer, and her Daughter, 14 years old, 
accustomed to the house. 

A Wench, a houseservant, and two male Children; one three years old, and the other 4 

A complete Seamstress and House Servant, with her male Child 7 years old. 

Three Young Wenches, 18, 10, ax, all accustomed to house work. 

A Mulatto Girl, about 17, a complete Seamstress and Waiting Maid, with her Grand- 

Two Men ,one a complete Coachman, and the other a Waiter. Apply at this Office, or at 
No. 19 Hasell-street, Feb. 19. 


times more than one family occupied a cabin. "We all lived 
together with our mother," writes a former slave, "in a 
long cabin, containing two rooms, one of which we occu- 
pied; the other being inhabited by my mother's niece, An- 
nike, and her children." 34 Since the slaves were rationed 
according to families and under some circumstances were 
permitted to cultivate gardens for their own use, a sort of 
family economy gave a material foundation to their senti- 
mental relationships. 35 Although the families were recog- 
nized as more or less distinct units, the fact that life among 
the slaves was informal and familiar tended to bring them 
all into intimate relations. The orphans had little difficulty 
in finding mothers among the women at the quarters. Con- 
cerning a former slave, the biographer writes : 

Aunt Phyllis showed him tender sympathy and remarked to aunt 
Betty that it was a pity "ter tek' dat po' child fum his sick mamma, 
and brung him on dis place whah he won't meet nobody but a pas'le 
o' low-down, good-for-nuthin' strangers." This remark attached the 
boy to aunt Phyllis and he loved her ever afterward. He loved her, too, 

34 John Brown, op. cit., p. 2. 

35 Allowance list of meal and meat for 1856 (Florida Plantation Records, 
pp. 513-14): 

Meal Meat Meal Meat 

(Pecks) (Lb.) (Pecks) (Lb.) 

Chesley and family 3 6* Maria and Pollidor 4 J 5 

Simon. Phillis, B. Peggy and L. Renty, Leah and two chil- 

4 children 5 7$ dren 4 

England and family 4 5 L.Dick 

Nathan and Coatney 2 5 Brave Boy 

Isaac i *i Wallace 

Jacob and family 4 7 Jim and family 

EsawandBinah 2 5 Sucky.. 

O. Betty. 0. Billy and family 6 9 L. Sarah 

Caesar and family 4! 7 O. Sucky 

Prophet, Joe and Cinder.... 3 7 Frank... 

Cupid * *f ~~~ 

B. Dick and family 4 5 pecks 68 119* 

M?nda '.'.'.'.'.'.'. i a* equal to 1 7 Bushels. Pounds of Meat 

Kate and family 6* 9* Ta . kc off J lb - ^ en you 

Nurse and Peggy a 4* give a Pint of Syrup. 


because she had the same name as his mother. Aunt Phyllis was a 
big-hearted old soul, and she looked with commiseration on all who 
suffered affliction or distress. 36 

But, in spite of this seemingly indiscriminate feeling 
toward children, mothers were likely to show special regard 
for their own offspring. Douglass, who was among the chil- 
dren placed under care of a cook, says: 

She had a strong hold upon old master, for she was a first-rate 
cook, and very industrious. She was therefore greatly favored by 
him as one mark of his favor she was the only mother who was per- 
mitted to retain her children around her, and even to these, her own 
children, she was often fiendish in her brutality. Cruel, however, as 
she sometimes was to her own children, she was not destitute of ma- 
ternal feeling, and in her instinct to satisfy their demands for food, 
she was often guilty of starving me and the other children. 3 ? 

When the mother was sold away or died, the oldest sister 
often assumed the role of mother to her brothers and sisters, 
A former slave wrote recently : 

When my mother was sold I had one brother, William, and three 
sisters, Silva, Agga, and Emma. My father and mother were both 
pure blooded African Negros and there is not a drop of white blood in 
my veins, nor in those of my brother and sisters. When mother was 
taken away from us, Emma was a baby three years old. Silva, the 
oldest of the children, was fourteen, and she was a mother to the rest 
of us children. She took my mother's place in the kitchen as cook 
for my boss. 38 

We have spoken of the mother as the mistress of the cabin 
and as the head of the family. There is good reason for this. 

36 Charles Alexander, Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth (Boston, 
1914), p. 27. 

vOpcit., p. 21. 

38 Robert Anderson, From Slavery to Affluence; Memoirs of Robert Ander- 
son, Ex-slave (Hemingsford, Neb., 1927), p. 5. 


Not only did she have a more fundamental interest in her 
children than the father but, as a worker and free agent, 
except where the master's will was concerned, she developed 
a spirit of independence and a keen sense of her personal 
rights. An entry in a plantation journal represents her in 
one case requesting a divorce because of the burden of hav- 
ing so many children : 

Lafayette Renty asked for Leaf to Marry Lear I also gave them 
Leaf. Rose, Rentys other wife, ses that she dont want to Libe with 
Renty on the account of his having so Many Children and they weare 
always quarling so I let them sepperate. 39 

Usually the prospective son-in-law had to get the consent 
of the girl's mother. A slave complained that the mother of 
the girl whom he sought to marry opposed him because 

she wanted her daughter to marry a slave who belonged to a very 
rich man living near by, and who was well known to be the son of his 
master. She thought no doubt that his master or father might chance 
to set him free before he died, which would enable him to do a better 
part to her daughter than I could. 40 

The dominating position of the mother is seen in the com- 
ment of a former slave on the character of her father and 
mother. Her father, she said, was "made after the timid 
kind" and "would never fuss back" at her mother who was 
constantly warning him: "Bob, I don't want no sorry nigger 
around me. I can't tolerate you if you ain't got no back- 
bone." 41 

Sometimes it happened that the husband and father 

39 Florida Plantation Records, p. 63. 

40 Henry Bibb, The Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, 
an American Slave, Written by Himself, with an Introduction by Lucius Mat- 
lock (New York, 1849), PP- 39~4- 

41 Manuscript document. 


played a more aggressive role in the slave family. 42 Henson 
tells the following story of his father's defense of his mother: 

The only incident I can remember, which occurred while my mother 
continued on N.'s farm, was the appearance of my father one day, 
with his head bloody and his back lacerated. He was in a state of 
great excitement, and though it was all a mystery to me at the age 
of three or four years, it was explained at a later period, and I under- 
stood that he had been suffering the cruel penalty of the Maryland 
law for beating a white man. His right ear had been cut off close to 
his head, and he had received a hundred lashes on his back. He had 
beaten the overseer for a brutal assault on my mother, and this was 
his punishment. Furious at such treatment, my father became a dif- 
ferent man, and was so morose, disobedient, and intractable, that 
Mr. N. determined to sell him. He accordingly parted with him, not 
long after, to his son, who lived in Alabama; and neither mother nor 
I ever heard of him again. 

In some accounts of their families, former slaves included 
their father. For example, Steward wrote: "Our family con- 
sisted of my father and mother whose names were Robert 
and Susan Steward a sister, Mary, and myself/' 44 But 
generally the husband made regular visits to his wife and 

43 In some lists of groups of slaves bought, the father appears (Phillips, op. 
cit., I, 136): 


Brave Boy, Carpenter, 40 years old Betty, her sister's child who died child 

Phillis, his wife, 35 Affey Nelly's child.-^child, n 

Pompey, Phillis's son, 16 Louisa her sister's child who is dead child, 

Jack B. Boy & Phillis's son, 16 10 

Chloe child do do Sarah, Nelly's child, 8 

Primus B. Boy's son, 21 Jack, Nelly's carpenter boy, 18 

Cato Child, B. Boy's son Ismel, Nelly's, 16 

Jenny (Blind) B. Boy's mother Lappo Phillis & Brave Boy's, 19 

Nelly's husband in town, 30 

I paid cash for these 16 Negroes, $640. each $10,240.00 

43 Op. tit., pp. 1-2. 

u Austin Steward, Twenty-two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman 
(Rochester 1857), p. 13. 


children. According to Bishop Heard, his father, who lived 
three miles away, "would come in on Wednesday nights 
after things had closed up at his home, and be back at his 
home by daylight, Thursday mornings; come again Satur- 
day night, and return by daylight Monday morning. " 4S 

The strength of the bond that sometimes existed between 
the father and his family is shown in such advertisements as 
the following: 


Ran away from the subscriber his Negro man Pauladore, commonly 
called Paul. I understand GEN. R. Y. HAYNE* has purchased his wife 
and children from H. L. PINCKNEY, Esq.,** and has them now on his 
plantation at Goose-creek, where, no doubt, the fellow is frequently 
lurking. T. DAVis.4 6 

When Ball escaped from slavery in Georgia, he made his 
way back to his wife and children in Maryland. 47 The ap- 
parently insignificant detail in the journal of an overseer: 
"To Eldesteno, old ben, to see his Grand son Samuel die," 48 
is an eloquent testimony to what some men felt in regard 
to their progeny. On the other hand, many slaves had the 
same relation with their fathers as Anderson, who says that, 
after his mother was sold away, "I frequently saw my father 
after that, but not sufficient to become familiar with him as 
a father and son should be. A few years later he married 
another woman from another plantation/' 49 

Generally speaking, the mother remained throughout 
slavery the dominant and important figure in the slave 
family. Although tradition has represented her as a devoted 

45 William Heard, From Slavery to Bishopric (Philadelphia, 1924), p. 22. 
* William Goodell, American Slave Code (New York, 1853), P- IX 9- 
" Op. cit.,p. 361. 
* 8 Florida Plantation Records, p. 415. 49 Op. cit., p. 5. 


foster-parent to her master's children and indifferent to her 
own, it appears that, where this existed, the relations be- 
tween the slave woman and the white child were similar to 
the relations which normally exist between mother and 
child. On the other hand, pregnancy and childbirth often 
meant only suffering for the slave mother who, because of 
her limited contacts with her young, never developed that 
attachment which grows out of physiological and emotional 
responses to its needs. Nevertheless, there is abundant evi- 
dence that slave mothers developed a deep and permanent 
love for their children, which often caused them to defy 
their masters and to undergo suffering to prevent separation 
from their young. This is only a part of the story of the 
slave mother, for there was another mother who bore chil- 
dren for the men of the master race. To the story of this 
mother we shall turn in the next chapter. 


Nowhere did human impulses and human feelings and 
sentiments tend to dissolve the formal relations between 
master and slave as in their sexual association, from which 
sprang those anomalous family groups consisting mainly of 
slave mother and mulatto offspring. But it was often in 
these very cases of human solidarity created by ties of blood 
that the ideas and sentiments embodied in the institution 
of slavery prevailed over the promptings of human feeling 
and sympathy. Where sexual association between master 
and slave was supported by personal attachment and in 
many cases genuine sentiment, we find the black, and more 
often mulatto, woman, under the protection of her master's 
house, playing a double role a wife without the confirma- 
tion of the law and a mistress without the glamour of ro- 
mance. Where the slave woman was only the means of 
satisfying a fleeting impulse, we find her rearing her mulatto 
offspring on the fare of slaves or being sold at a premium on 
the auction block because of her half -white brood. But 
whether her children were doomed to servitude or nurtured 
under the guidance of a solicitous father, they were not un- 
conscious of their relation to the master race. 

The admonition contained in the sermon preached at 
Whitechapel in 1609 for the benefit of adventurers and 
planters bound for Virginia, that "Abrams posteritie [must] 
keepe to themselves," was ignored in regard to the Negro as 
well as to the Indian. But the added injunction that "they 
may not marry nor give in marriage to the heathen, that are 



uncircumcised" became, except in rare instances, the in- 
exorable policy of the whites in their relation with both of 
the subordinate races. 1 Intercourse between whites and 
Negroes began as soon as the latter were introduced into 
America. In the beginning the sexual association between 
the two races was not confined to white males and the 
women of the black race. Colonial records furnish us with 
numerous instances of bastard children by Negro men and 
indentured white women. 2 There is also good evidence that 
intercourse between Negro males and white servant women 
was sometimes encouraged by white masters who desired 
to increase the number of their bound servants. 3 Marriages 
of Negroes and whites, most of whom were indentured serv- 
ants, seem to have been numerous enough to require the 
enactment of severe laws for their prevention. 4 But, when 
the principle of racial integrity and white domination be- 

1 Arthur W. Calhoun, A Social History of the American Family (Cleve- 
land, 1917-18), I, 323. 

a A case brought into the Virginia courts in 1769 by a mulatto in suing 
for his freedom begins thus: "A Christian white woman between the years 
of 1723 and 1765, had a daughter, Betty Bugg, by a negro man. This 
daughter was by deed indented, bound by the churchwardens to serve till 
thirty-one. Before the expiration of her servitude, she was delivered of the 
defendant Bugg, who never was bound by the churchwardens, and was sold 
by his master to the plaintiff. Being now twenty-six years of age, and having 
cause of complaint against the plaintiff, as being illy provided with clothes 
and diet, he brought an action in the court below to recover his liberty, 
founding his claim on three points" (Helen Tunnicliff Catterall [ed.], Judicial 
Cases concerning American Slavery and the Negro [Washington, D.C., 1926], 
I, 89-90). Another case for the following year states that "the plaintiff's 
grandmother was a mulatto, begotten on a white woman by a negro man, 
after the year 1705, and bound by the churchwardens, under the law of that 
date, to serve to the age of thirty-one" (ibid., p. 90). 

* Calhoun, op. cit., I, 325. 

* Edward B. Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States (Boston, 1918), 
pp. 128-31. 


came fixed in the minds of the whites, social censure and 
severe penalties were reserved, with rare exceptions, for the 
association of Negro men and white women. 5 

As slavery developed into an institution, neither the segre- 
gation of the great body of slaves from the masses of the 
whites nor the mutual antagonism between the "poor 
whites" and the blacks was an effectual check on the sexual 
association between the two races. In the cities, especially, 
where the slaves were released from the control under which 
they lived on the plantations, and there were many free 
Negroes, association between the women of the inferior race 
and white men assumed in the majority of cases a casual 
and debasing character. 6 In fact, a traffic in mulatto women 
especially for prostitution became a part of the regular slave 
trade in southern cities. 7 Prostitution of slave women be- 
came in many cases a private affair and, when in such cases 
it led to the formation of more or less permanent associa- 
tions, it merged into that developed and almost socially 

5 Calhoun (op. cit., I, 210), has given us the following items from the 
court records of Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1698: "For that hee .... 
contrary to the lawes of the government and contrary to his masters consent 
hath .... got with child a certain molato woman called swart Anna 

"David Lewis Constable of Haverford returned a negro man of his and a 
white woman for haveing a baster childe .... the negro said she intised 
him and promised him to marry him; she being examined, confest the 
same .... the court ordered that she shall receive twenty-one lashes on her 
beare backe .... and the court ordered the negroe man never to meddle with 
any white woman more uppon paine of his life." 

6 Cf. ibid., II, 292-93; Reuter, op. cit., p. 160. 

7 Calhoun, op. cit., II, 298-99; see also Frederic Bancroft, Slave-trading in 
the Old South (Baltimore, 1931), pp. 328-30. The following item appeared 
in the Memphis Eagle and Enquirer , June 26, 1857: "A slave woman is 
advertised to be sold in St. Louis who is so surpassingly beautiful that 
$5,000 has been already offered for her, at private sale, and refused" (quoted 
in Bancroft, op. cit., p. 329). 


approved system of concubinage which was found in 
Charleston, Mobile, and New Orleans. The cities were not, 
however, the only places where widespread intermixture of 
the races occurred. Although it is difficult to estimate the 
extent to which the slaveholders entered into sexual asso- 
ciations with their slaves, there is abundance of evidence 
of both concubinage and polygamy on the part of the master 
class. Moreover, although the intercourse between the mas- 
ters and slave women on the plantations assumed as a rule 
a more permanent form than similar relations in the cities, 
the character of these associations varied considerably. 
Therefore, we shall examine the character of the different 
types of associations and try to determine the nature of the 
family groups that grew out of them. 

In view of the relations of superordination and subordina- 
tion between the two races, how far did these associations 
originate in mere physical compulsion? How far did the 
women of the subordinate race surrender themselves because 
they were subject to the authority of the master race? Or 
was the prestige of the white race sufficient to insure com- 
pliance on the part of the black and mulatto women, both 
slave and free? How far was mutual attraction responsible 
for acquiescence on the part of the woman? 

All these factors were effective in creating the perplexing 
relationships in which men of the master race and women 
of the subject race became entangled. That physical com- 
pulsion was necessary at times to secure submission on the 
part of black women, both slave and free, is supported by 
historical evidence 8 and has been preserved in the traditions 
of Negro families. A young man in a Negro college writes 

8 Calhoun, op. cit., II, 291-92. 


concerning the birth of his great-great-grandfather on his 
mother's side : 

Approximately a century and a quarter ago, a group of slaves were 
picking cotton on a plantation near where Troy, Alabama, is now 
located. Among them was a Negro woman, who, despite her position 
as a slave, carried herself like a queen and was tall and stately. The 
over-seer (who was the plantation's owner's son) sent her to the house 
on some errand. It was necessary to pass through a wooded pasture 
to reach the house and the over-seer intercepted her in the woods and 
forced her to put her head between the rails in an old stake and rider 
fence, and there in that position my great-great-grandfather was con- 
ceived. 9 

In the family history of another college student the story 
of the circumstances under which the Negro woman had 
been forced to yield to the sexual assault by her white mas- 
ter had become a sort of family skeleton, well guarded be- 
cause of the sensitive feelings and pride of the victim. Of 
her great-grandmother, our informant writes : 

As young as I was when I knew her, I remember distinctly her 
fierce hatred of white people, especially of white men. She bore marks 
of brutal beatings she received for attempted escapes, or for talking 
back to her master or mistress. One mark in particular stands out in 
my memory, one she bore just above her right eye. As well as she 
liked to regale me with stories of her scars, this is one she never dis- 
cussed with me. Whenever I would ask a question concerning it, she 
would simply shake her head and say, "White men are as low as dogs, 
child. Stay away from them." It was only after her death, and since 
I became a woman that I was told by my own mother that she re- 
ceived that scar at the hands of her master's youngest son, a boy of 
about eighteen years at the time she conceived their child, my grand- 
mother, Ellen. She belonged to a family of tobacco planters I believe, 
for she often spoke of tobacco, and liked very much to smoke it in an 
old pipe, which seems to have been almost as old as she. During the 
time she was carrying Ellen, she was treated more brutally than before, 

* Manuscript document. 


and had to work even harder than ever. But strange to say, after the 
child was born, and was seen to be white, in appearance at least, the 

attitude of the whole C family seemed to soften toward her 

somewhat, and after this she became a house servant and was taught 
to sew, and became the family seamstress. 10 

It seems that at times resistance to the white man's pas- 
sion resulted in sadistical revenge upon the women. The 
form of punishment administered in the following case bears 
this implication : 

Thomas James, Jep's second son, had cast his eyes on a handsome 
young negro girl, to whom he made dishonest overtures. She would not 
submit to him, and finding he could not overcome her, he swore he 
would be revenged. One night he called her out of the gin-house, and 
then bade me and two or three more, strip her naked; which we did. 
He then made us throw her down on her face, in front of the door, 
and hold her whilst he flogged her the brute with the bull-whip, 
cutting great gashes of flesh out of her person, at every blow, from five 
to six inches long. The poor unfortunate girl screamed most awfully 
all the time, and writhed under our strong arms, rendering it necessary 
for us to use our united strength to hold her down. He flogged her for 
half an hour, until he nearly killed her, and then left her to crawl 
away to her cabin. 11 

However, in many instances men of the master race did 
not meet much resistance on the part of the slave women. 

10 Manuscript document. 

" John Brown, Slave Life in Georgia, ed., L. A. Chameroozow (London, 
1855), pp. 132-33. Miss Kemble tells the following story: "She told me a 

miserable story of her former experience on the plantation under Mr. K 's 

overseership. It seems that Jem Valiant (an extremely difficult subject, a 
mulatto lad, whose valor is sufficiently accounted for now by the influence 

of the mutinous white blood) was her first-born, the son of Mr. K , who 

forced her, flogged her severely for having resisted him, and then sent her 
off, as a farther punishment, to Five Pound a horrible swamp in a remote 
corner of the estate, to which the slaves are sometimes banished for such 
offenses as are not sufficiently atoned for by the lash" (Frances A. Kemble, 
Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation [New York, 1863], p. 199). 


The mere prestige of the white race was sufficient to secure 
compliance with their desires. As Miss Kemble observed, 
the slaves accepted the contempt of their masters to such an 
extent that "they profess, and really seem to feel it for them- 
selves, and the faintest admixture of white blood in their 
veins appears at once, by common consent of their own race, 
to raise them in the scale of humanity." 12 Moreover, there 
were often certain concrete advantages to be gained by sur- 
rendering themselves to the men of the master race that 
overcame any moral scruples these women might have had. 
In some cases it meant freedom from the drudgery of field 
labor as well as better food and clothing. Then there was 
the prospect that her half-white children would enjoy cer- 
tain privileges and perhaps in time be emancipated. 

Mutual attraction also played a part in securing the com- 
pliance of the woman. In many cases the intimacies that 
developed began in the household where the two races lived 
in close association. The historian of Alabama, who at- 

" Kemble, op. cit., p. 194. The following incident related by a former 
slave indicates compliance on the part of a woman who was married to a 
slave: "Soon after my arrival in the family, Mr. Thomas let me to one of 
his sons, named Henry, who was a doctor, to attend his horse. This son was 
unmarried, lived a bachelor, and kept a cook and waiter. The cook belonged 
neither to him nor his father, but was hired. She was a good looking mulatto, 
and was married to a right smart, intelligent man, who belonged to the 
doctor's uncle. One night, coming home in haste, and wishing to see his 
wife, he sent me up stairs to request her to come down. Upon going up I 
found she was in a room with the doctor, the door of which was fast. This I 
thoughtlessly told her husband, who, upon her coming down a moment after, 

upbraided her for it. She denied it, and afterwards told the doctor 

The doctor was a very intemperate man. As soon as his cook told him her 
story, he came to his father with the complaint that I had left him without 
his consent; upon which his father told him to flog me" (John Thompson, 
The Life of John Thompson, a Fugitive Slave; Containing His History of 
Twenty-five Years in Bondage, and His Providential Escape, Written by Him- 
self [Worcester, 1856], pp. 30-31). 


tempts to place the responsibility for these illicit unions 
upon the slave woman, refers to the seductiveness of the 
latter. 13 But it appears that, aside from the prestige of the 
white race and the material advantages to be gained, these 
slave women were as responsive to the attractiveness of the 
white males as the latter were to the charms of the slave 
women. Hence, slave women were not responsive to the ap- 
proaches of all white men and often showed some discrimi- 
nation and preference in the bestowal of their favors. 14 

The relations between the white men and the slave women 
naturally aroused the jealousy and antagonism of the wom- 
en of the master race. Because of the patriarchal character 
of the family, it was probably true to some extent, as one 
traveler related, that "a Southern wife, if she is prodigally 
furnished with dollars to 'go shopping/ apparently con- 

*J Calhoun (op. cit., II, 294) gives the following quotation from a historian: 
4 'Under the institution of slavery, the attack against the integrity of white 
civilization was made by the insidious influence of the lascivious hybrid 
woman at the point of weakest resistance. " 

'4 The following incident is from the life of Bishop Loguen's mother, who 
was the mistress of a white man near Nashville, Tennessee : "When she was 
about the age of twenty-four or five, a neighboring planter finding her alone 
at the distillery, and presuming upon the privileges of his position, made 
insulting advances, which she promptly repelled. He pursued her with gentle 
force, and was still repelled. He then resorted to a slaveholder's violence and 
threats. These stirred all the tiger's blood in her veins. She broke from his 
embrace, and stood before him in bold defiance. He attempted again to lay 
hold of her and careless of caste and slave laws, she grasped the heavy 
stick used to stir the malt, and dealt him a blow which made him reel and 
retire. But he retired only to recover and return with the fatal knife, and 
threats of vengeance and death. Again she aimed the club with unmeasured 
force at him, and hit the hand which held the weapon, and dashed it to a dis- 
tance from him. Again he rushed upon her with the fury of a madman, and 
she then plied a blow upon his temple, which laid him, as was supposed, dead 
at her feet" (J. W. Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Free- 
man [Syracuse, N.Y., 1859], pp. 20-21). 


siders it no drawback to her happiness if some brilliant 
mulatto or quadroon woman ensnares her husband. " IS But, 
frequently, the wife visited her resentment not only upon 
the slave woman but upon her husband's mulatto children. 
In some cases white women arranged marriages for their 
female slaves as a means of breaking off their husband's 
attachment. This expedient seemingly failed in the follow- 
ing incident related by a former slave concerning his sister: 

Mistress told sister that she had best get married, and that if she 
would, she would give her a wedding. Soon after a very respectable 
young man, belonging to Mr. Bowman, a wealthy planter, and reputed 
to be a good master, began to court my sister. This very much pleased 
Mistress, who wished to hasten the marriage. She determined that 
her maid should be married, not as slaves usually are, but that with 
the usual matrimonial ceremonies should be tied the knot to be broken 
only by death. The Sabbath was appointed for the marriage, which 
was to take place at the Episcopal Church. I must here state that no 
slave can be married lawfully, without a fine from his or her owner. 
Mistress and all the family, except the old man, went to church, to 
witness the marriage ceremony, which was to be performed by their 
minister, Parson Reynolds. The master of Josiah, my sister's destined 
husband, was also at the wedding, for he thought a great deal of his 
man. Mistress returned delighted from the wedding, for she thought 
she had accomplished a great piece of work. But the whole affair only 
enraged her unfeeling husband, who, to be revenged upon the maid, 
proposed to sell her. To this his wife refused consent. Although Mrs. 
T. had never told him her suspicions or what my sister had said, yet 
he suspected the truth, and determined to be revenged. Accordingly, 
during another absence of Mistress, he again cruelly whipped my 
sister. A continued repetition of these things finally killed our Mis- 
tress, who the doctor said, died of a broken heart. After the death of 
this friend, sister ran away leaving her husband and one child and 
finally found her way to the North. 16 

15 Quoted in Calhoun, op. cit., p. 310. 

16 Thompson, op. cit., pp. 33-34. 


Sometimes white women used more direct means of rid- 
ding themselves of their colored rivals. There was always 
the possibility of selling them. If they were not able to ac- 
complish this during the lifetime of their husbands, they 
were almost certain to get their revenge when the slave 
woman's protector died, as witness the following excerpt 
from the family history of a mulatto : 

My father's grandmother, Julia Heriot, of four generations ago 
lived in Georgetown, South Carolina. Recollections of her parentage 
are, indeed, vague. Nevertheless, a distinct mixture of blood was por- 
trayed in her physical appearance. And, because she knew so little 
of her parents, she was no doubt sold into Georgetown at a very early 
age as house servant to General Charles Washington Heriot. Julia 
Heriot married a slave on the plantation by whom she had two chil- 
dren. Very soon after her second child was born an epidemic of fever 
swept the plantation, and her husband became one of the victims. 
After her husband's death, she became maid to Mrs. Heriot, wife of 
General Heriot. From the time that Julia Heriot was sold to General 
Heriot, she had been a favorite servant in the household, because of 
the aptitude which she displayed in performing her tasks. General 
and Mrs. Heriot had been so impressed with her possibilities that in a 
very short time after she had been in her new home, she had been 
allowed to use the name of Heriot in the midst of her good for- 
tune, a third child was born to her, which bore no resemblance to her 
other children. Reports of the "white child" were rumored. General 
Heriot's wife became enraged and insisted that her husband sell this 
slave girl, but General Heriot refused. 

During the winter of the following year General Heriot contracted 
pneumonia and died. Before his death, he signed freedom papers for 
Julia and her three children; but, Mrs. Heriot manoevered her affairs 
so that Julia Heriot and her three children were again sold into slavery. 
In the auction of properties Julia Heriot was separated from her first 
two children. She pleaded that her babies be allowed to remain with 
her, but found her former mistress utterly opposed to anything that 
concerned her well-being. Her baby was the only consolation which 


she possessed. Even the name Heriot had been taken away by con- 
stant warnings. 17 

The resentment of the white woman was likely to be 
manifested toward the offspring of her husband's relations 
with the slave woman. A mulatto former slave, after re- 
marking that white women were "always revengeful toward 
the children of slaves that [had] any of the blood of their 
husbands in them/' tells of his mother's anxiety when he, 
because of his relation to his master, became the object of 
the mistress' resentment. 18 Resentment against the mulatto 
child was especially likely to be aroused if the white father 
showed it much affection. In South Carolina in 1801 a wom- 
an secured alimony from her husband on the grounds that 

he cohabited with his own slave, by whom he had a mulatto child, 
on whom he lavished his affection; whilst he daily insulted the com- 

17 Manuscript document. In spite of the moralizing tone of the excerpt 
cited below, the incidents related are probably authentic: "Among the 
slaves on Mr. McKiernan's plantation were a number of handsome women. 
Of these the master was extremely fond, and many of them he beguiled with 
vile flatteries, and cheated by false promises of future kindness, till they 
became victims to his unbridled passions. Upon these unfortunate women 
fell the heavy hatred of their mistress; and year after year, as new instances 
of her husband's perfidy came to her knowledge her jealousy ran higher, till 
at length reason seemed banished from her mind, and kindliness became a 
stranger to her heart. Then she sought a solace in the wine cup; and the 
demon of intoxication fanned the fires of hatred that burned within her, till 
they consumed all that was womanly in her nature, and rendered her an 
object of contempt and ridicule, even among her own dependents" (Mrs. 
Kate E. R. Pickard, The Kidnapped and the Ransomed: Being the Personal 
Collections of Peter Still and Bis Wife "Vina," after Forty Years of Slavery 
[New York, 1856], p. 167). 

18 Lewis Clarke, Narrative of the Sujferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, 
Sons of a Soldier of the Revolution (Boston, 1846), p. 12. Calhoun (op. cit. y 
II, 309) cites the case of a mistress who, "out of ungrounded jealousy, had 
slaves hold a negro girl down while she cut off the forepart of the victim's 


plainant, and encouraged his slave to do the same That at dinner 

one day, he took away the plate from complainant when she was going 
to help herself to something to eat, and said, when he and the negro 
had dined she might. 19 

The slave woman's relations with the white males some- 
times aroused the antagonism of the entire household. Her 
relations with the sons in the family were regarded in such 
cases as an offense against the integrity of the family. In 
the incident related by Pennington we see her not only as 
the victim of the sexual desires of the son in the household 
but also as the object of the affection of her colored father 
who sought to save her: 

My master once owned a beautiful girl about twenty-four. She 
had been raised in a family where her mother was a great favourite. 
She was her mother's darling child. Her master was a lawyer of emi- 
nent abilities and great fame, but owing to habits of intemperance, 
he failed in business, and my master purchased this girl for a nurse. 
After he had owned her about a year, one of his sons became attached 
to her, for no honourable purposes; a fact which was not only well- 
known among all the slaves, but which became a source of unhappiness 
to his mother and sisters. 

The result was that poor Rachel had to be sold to "Georgia." Never 
shall I forget the heart-rending scene, when one day one of the men 
was ordered to get "the one-horse cart ready to go into town"; 
Rachel, with her few articles of clothing, was placed in it, and taken 
into the very town where her parents lived, and there sold to the 
traders before their weeping eyes. That same son who had degraded 
her, and who was the cause of her being sold, acted as salesman, and 
bill of salesman. While his cruel business was being transacted, my 
master stood aside, and the girFs father, a pious member and exhorter 
in the Methodist Church, a venerable grey-headed man, with his hat 
off, besought that he might be allowed to get some one in the place 
to purchase his child. But no: my master was invincible. His reply 
was, "She has offended in my family, and I can only restore confidence 

x Catterall, op. cil., II, 281. 


by sending her out of hearing." After lying in prison a short time, her 
new owner took her with others to the far South, where her parents 
heard no more of her. 20 

The white wife often saw in the colored woman not only a 
rival for her husband's affection but also a possible com- 
petitor for a share in his property. In Kentucky in 1848 the 
court held that a white man's will should be rejected be- 
cause he had disinherited his children. The record of the 
court stated that 

during the few last years of his life, .... he [the testator, who died in 
1845] seems to have had no will of his own, but to have submitted 
implicitly to the dictation of a colored woman whom he had emanci- 
pated, and whose familiar intercourse with him, had brought him into 
complete and continued subjection to her influence The gratifi- 
cation of the wishes of this colored woman, seems to be its leading ob- 
ject. The natural duty of providing for his own children .... was en- 
tirely .... disregarded. 21 

Probably not many men of the master race became so 
enamoured of their colored mistresses as to disinherit their 
wives and children. In fact, where they showed strong at- 
tachment for their colored mistresses, attempts were made 
to prove mental disability. This was the contention set up 
by the heirs-at-law in a case in South Carolina in 1856: 

Elijah Willis, by his will, dated 1854, bequeathed Amy (his slave 
mistress), her seven children (some of whom were his own), and their 
descendants to his executors, directing them "to bring or cause said 
persons, and their increase, to be brought to .... Ohio, and to emanci- 
pate and set them free." He also bequeathed and devised to his ex- 
ecutors all the rest of his property, from the sale of which to purchase 
lands in one of the free states for said slaves, to stock and furnish the 
same, and to place said persons in possession thereof. "Elijah Willis, 

20 J. W. C. Pennington, The Fugitive Blacksmith; or Events in the History 
of James W. C. Pennington (London, 1850), pp. vi-vii. 

21 Catterall, op. cit., I, 389. 


taking with him his negro slave, Amy, and her children, and her 
mother, in May, 1855, left his home (in South Carolina) .... for Cin- 
cinnati He arrived in a steamboat, and leaving it at a landing, 

on the Ohio side .... he died between the landing and a hack, in 
which he was about proceeding, with his said negroes, to his lodgings." 
His heirs-at-law contended that the will was void under the act of 
1841, and also "undertook to show insanity, fraud, and undue influ- 
ence, by proving .... that the deceased was often under gloomy de- 
pression of spirits avoiding society on account of his connection with 
Amy, by whom he had several children; that he permitted her to act 
as the mistress of his house; to use saucy and improper language; that 
she was drunken, and probably unfaithful to him; and that she exer- 
cised great influence over him in reference to his domestic affairs, and 
in taking slaves from his business, to make wheels for little wagons 
for his mulatto children, and in inducing him to take off for sale the 
negro man who was her husband " 

The attempt to define as insane the devotion of white 
men to their colored mistresses and mulatto children was 
to be expected since such behavior was so opposed to the 
formal and legal relations ,of the two races and the principles 
of color caste. But the human relations between the two races 
constantly tended to dissolve the formal and legal principles 
upon which slavery rested. Sexual relations broke down the 
last barriers to complete intimacy and paved the way for 

33 Ibid., II, 451. When the same contention was made against a will in a 
Kentucky case in 1831, the court held: "The fact that the deceased evinced 
an inclination to marry the slave, Grace, whom he liberated, is not a stronger 
evidence of insanity than the practice of rearing children by slaves without 
marriage; a practice but too common, as we all know, from the numbers of 
our mullatto population. However degrading, such things are, and however 
repugnant to the institutions of society, and the moral law, they prove 
more against the taste than the intellect. De gustibus non disputandum. 
White men, who may wish to marry negro women, or who carry on illicit 
intercourse with them, may, notwithstanding, possess such soundness of 
mind as to be capable in law, of making a valid will and testament 1 ' (ibid., 


assimilation. There was some basis for the belief expressed 
by some persons that parental affection would put an end 
to slavery when amalgamation had gone far enough. 23 

Not all masters, of course, developed a deep and perma- 
nent attachment for their mistresses and mulatto children. 
In some cases men of the master race even sold their own 
mulatto children. 24 The slave woman was often abandoned 
and fared no better than other slaves. Neither Booker T. 
Washington nor his mother received any attention or bene- 
factions from his supposedly white father. Frederick Doug- 
lass and his mother apparently derived no advantages from 
his reputed relation to the master race. After Loguen 's 
mother had borne three children for her master, his passion 
for her cooled, and he took a white woman for his wife or 
mistress. 25 But Loguen remembered that, when he was a 
very small child, "he was the pet of Dave, as his father was 
also nicknamed, that he slept in his bed sometimes, and was 
caressed by him." 26 In the adjudication of the South Caro- 
lina case cited above, a witness testified that the white 
father gave his mulatto children "the best victuals .... from 
the table" and that "one of the small ones got in his lap." 27 
It was the prolonged association between the master and his 
colored mistress and their mulatto children that gave rise to 
enduring affections and lasting sentiment. 

Although the association between the men of the master 
race and the slave women was regarded as an assault upon 
the white family, white children of the masters sometimes 
manifested an affection for their mulatto half-brothers and 
half-sisters similar to that of their fathers. The mulatto 

** Cf. Calhoun, op. cit., II, 301. 

24 Ibid., 301. 26 Ibid., p. 23. 

2 s Loguen, op. cit., p. 36. a7 Catterall, op. cit., II, 469. 


Clarke tells us that at least one of his mother's white half- 
sisters respected the tie of blood when the estate was sold: 
When I was about six years of age, the estate of Samuel Campbell, 
my grandfather, was sold at auction. His sons and daughters were all 
present, at the sale, except Mrs. Ban ton. Among the articles and 
animals put upon the catalogue, and placed in the hands of the auc- 
tioneer, were a large number of slaves. When every thing else had been 
disposed of, the question arose among the heirs, "What shall be done 
with Letty (my mother) and her children?" John and William Camp- 
bell, came to mother, and told her they would divide her family among 
the heirs, but none of them should go out of the family. One of the 
daughters to her everlasting honor be it spoken remonstrated 
against any such proceeding. Judith, the wife of Joseph Logan, told 
her brothers and sisters, "Letty is our own half sister, and you know 
it; father never intended they should be sold." Her protest was dis- 
regarded, and the auctioneer was ordered to proceed. My mother, and 
her infant son Cyrus, about one year old, were put up together and 
sold for $500!! Sisters and brothers selling their own sister and her 
children. 28 

All classes of whites in the South were involved in these 
associations with the slave women. Some have attempted to 
place the burden upon the overseers and the landless poor 
whites, the class from which they were recruited. But there 
is no evidence that the poor whites were more involved than 
the men of the master class. In fact, there was always con- 
siderable antagonism between the slaves and the overseers 
and the class to which they belonged. 29 Concubinage was 

*0p. tit., p. 69. 

29 An overseer reported to his employer that he "maid the Driver give 

(Mariah) 10 cut it all grew out of hur molater girl Mary. I spoke to 

Bety (his wife) about it and told hur that I wold take Mary in the house to 
mind the flies and play with Annah as they war ner of a size and that she 
could stay with it(s) Mother of a knight and if it wanted it cold go down to 
see hur of days and if it was smart that I had no dout that hur Mistis wold 
make a hous servent of Mary and Betty apperd to be very willin but that 
knight Mariah put it in Marys head that she was not to wait on us and I 


the privilege of those classes in the South that were eco- 
nomically well off. In Charleston, South Carolina, and in 
New Orleans, where the system of concubinage reached its 
highest development, wealthy bachelors included beautiful 
mulatto women among their luxuries. Sometimes they de- 
veloped a serious and permanent affection for these women 
that culminated in marriage. 30 More often, it seems, the 
women developed real affection for the men; for, when they 
were abandoned by the white men who entered legal mar- 
riage, these women seldom entered new relationships and in 
some cases committed suicide. 

The colored families of the aristocrats were too well known 
for the fact to be concealed. 31 The white masters acknowl- 

had to give the chile a whipen the next morning and went to El Disteno and 
when she came in et diner she cut up a swell abot it. next morning I was 
goin to give hur, Mariah, a smal dresin (i.e., dressing, flogging) about it 
and she walked of(f)" (Florida Plantation Records, pp. 156-57). 

3 A mulatto gives the following account of his sister: "Sister was there- 
fore carried down the river to New Orleans, kept three or four weeks, and 
then put up for sale. The day before the sale, she was taken to the barber's, 
her hair dressed, and she was furnished with a new silk gown, and gold 
watch, and every thing done to set off her personal attractions, previous to 
the time of the bidding. The first bid was $500; then $800. The auctioneer 
began to extol her virtues. Then $1000 was bid. The auctioneer says, 'If you 
only knew the reason why she is sold, you would give any sum for her. She 
is a pious, good girl, member of the Baptist church, warranted to be a virtuous 
girl.' The bidding grew brisk. 'Twelve!' 'thirteen/ 'fourteen,' 'fifteen,' 'sixteen 
hundred,' was at length bid, and she was knocked off to a Frenchman, named 
Coval. He wanted her to live with him as his housekeeper and mistress. This 
she utterly refused, unless she were emancipated and made his wife. In about 
one month, he took her to Mexico, emancipated, and married her. She 
visited France with her husband, spent a year or more there and in the West 
Indies. In four or five years after her marriage, her husband died, leaving her 
a fortune of twenty or thirty thousand dollars" (Clarke, op. cit., p. 75). 

31 A sister of President Madison was reported to have remarked to Rev. 
George Bourne, a Presbyterian minister in Virginia: "We Southern ladies 


edged the relationships, gave protection to their colored 
families, and generally emancipated them. The often-cited 
case of Thomas Jefferson, who emancipated his colored chil- 
dren, is only a conspicuous example of the numerous aristo- 
cratic slaveholders who left mulatto descendants. 32 Only as 
tradition has cast a halo about the southern aristocracy has 
an attempt been made to remove this supposed stain from 
their name. 

Numerous mulatto families are traceable to the associa- 
tions between slaveholders and their slave women. The 
family background of a mulatto who played a part in Texas 
politics after the Civil War is similar to that of other mulatto 
families whose relationship to the master race is well au- 
thenticated. From the biography of Cuney, written by his 
daughter, we learn : 

are complimented with the names of wives; but we are only the mistresses 
of seraglios" (quoted in William Goodell, American Slave Code in Theory and 
Practice [New York, 1853], p. in). While Andrew Johnson was governor of 
Tennessee, in a speech to the newly emancipated blacks, he chided the aris- 
tocracy on their objection to Negro equality by reminding them of their 
numerous mulatto children in the city of Nashville: "The representatives 
of this corrupt, (and if you will permit me almost to swear a little), this 
damnable aristocracy, taunt us with our desire to see justice done, and 
charge us with favoring negro equality. Of all living men they should be 
the last to mouth that phrase; and, even when uttered in their hearing, it 
should cause their cheeks to tinge and burn with shame. Negro equality, 
indeed! Why, pass, any day, along the sidewalks of High Street where these 
aristocrats more particularly dwell, these aristocrats, whose sons are now 
in the bands of guerillas and cutthroats who prowl and rob and murder 
around our city, pass by their dwellings, I say, and you will see as many 
mulatto as Negro children, the former bearing an unmistakable resemblance 
to the aristocratic owners" (Speeches of Andrew Johnson, President of the 
United States , with a Biographical Introduction by Frank Moore [Boston. 
1865], PP- xxxix-xl). 

32 Calhoun, op. cit., pp. 299-300. 


Norris Wright Cuney was of Negro, Indian and Swiss descent. The 
Negro and Indian blood came through his mother, Adeline Stuart, 
for whom free papers were executed by Col. Cuney, and who was born 

in the State of Virginia The Caucasian blood of my father came 

principally from the Swiss family of Cuney's who were among the 
early settlers of Virginia, coming there with the Archinard family 
from Switzerland. About the time of the Louisiana purchase, they 
migrated to the new provinces and became planters in Rapides Par- 
ish When Col. Philip Cuney came to Texas with his family, he 

settled in Waller County, near Hempstead, on the east side of the 
Brazos River. Here, in the heart of the cotton and melon belt, he 
maintained a large plantation and held slaves, among whom was my 
grandmother, mentioned above, Adeline Stuart, who bore him eight 
children and whom he eventually set free .... on May 12, 1846, my 
father was born at "Sunnyside," the plantation on the Brazos River 
owned by his father, Col. Philip Cuney. In 1853, when father was 
seven years of age, the family moved to Houston and the two older 
boys were sent to Pittsburgh to attend school." 

When men of the slaveholding aristocracy renounced the 
conventional society of their peers, withdrew to the seclu- 
sion of their feudal estates, and took as their companions 
mulatto women, it was natural that deep and permanent 
sentiment should develop between them and their colored 
mistresses and children. This was the case with those anom- 
alous family groups in which the woman enjoyed the pro- 
tection of her master and paramour and occupied a dignified 
and respected position in relation to her children and other 
slaves on the plantation. It is not surprising, then, to find 
in the court cases, contesting the wills of masters who eman- 
cipated their mistresses and mulatto children and left them 
their estates, that the fact of the woman's having "had the 

Maud Cuney Hare, Norris Wright Cuney (New York, 1913), pp. 1-4. 


influence over him of a white woman and a wife" was cited 
to show undue influence on her part. 34 

That such associations undermined the moral order upon 
which slavery rested and made possible the gradual assimi- 
lation of the Negro as his blood became more and more 
diluted by white blood cannot be denied. Within the in- 
timacy of these family groups color caste was dissolved, and 
the children, who were often scarcely distinguishable from 
white, took over the ideals, sentiments, and ambitions of 
their white fathers. Their mothers, who were generally mu- 
lattoes and already possessed some of the culture and feeling 
of the master race, were further assimilated into the white 
group by their close association with the cultured classes of 
the South. 

We can view this process in a mulatto family that origi- 
nated on a large plantation in Virginia. Captain Ralph 
Quarles, according to his mulatto son who was elected to 
Congress during the Reconstruction, 

believed that slavery ought to be abolished. But he maintained that 
the mode of its abolition should be by the voluntary individual action 
of the owner. He held that slaves should be dealt with in such manner, 

s* South Carolina Case, 1839: "The testator was never married. He had 
lived for many years in a state of illicit intercourse with a (bright) mulatto 
woman, his own slave ('the child of .... a half brother of testator'), who 
assumed the position of a wife, controlled, at least, all the domestic arrange- 
ments of the family. The issue was a boy, named Henry, who was 

acknowledged by the testator as his son His respectable neighbors 

would not allow him to be sent to school with their children. He sent him to a 
distant school, from which he was ejected, so soon as his caste was dis- 
covered, although his complexion was such that it required very close in- 
spection to decide that he was not white; .... Many years before his death, 
he had endeavored, by application to the Legislature, to effect the emancipa- 
tion of this boy. These efforts proving unavailing, the testator, after, or 
about the time he arrived at manhood, sent Henry to Indiana, where he had 


as to their superintendence and management, as to prevent cruelty, 
always, and to inspire in them, so far as practicable, feelings of con- 
fidence in their masters. Hence, he would employ no overseer, but, 
dividing the slaves into groups, convenient for ordinary direction and 
employment, make one of their own number the chief director of the 
force. 35 

Because of these views and practices in the management of 
his plantation, Captain Quarles was condemned and finally 
ostracized. "For twenty years before his death, no white 
man resided upon his plantation other than Captain Quarles 
himself." As he spent most of his life among his slaves, 
naturally, as his son remarks, he found "a woman, a com- 
panion for life, among his slaves to whom he gave his affec- 
tions," and made "the mother of his children." 36 

The woman, for whom he discovered special attachment and who, 
finally, became really the mistress of the Great House of the planta- 
tion, reciprocating the affection of her owner, winning his respect and 
confidence, was the one whom he had taken and held, at first, in 
pledge for money borrowed of him by her former owner; but whom, at 
last, he made the mother of his four children, one daughter and three 
sons. Her name was Lucy Langston. Her surname was of Indian 
origin, and borne by her mother, as she came out of a tribe of Indians 
of close relationships in blood to the famous Pocahontas. Of Indian 
extraction, she was possessed of slight proportion of negro blood; and 
yet, she and her mother, a full-blooded Indian woman, who was 
brought upon the plantation and remained there up to her death, 
were loved and honored by their fellow-slaves of every class. 37 

She had been emancipated by Captain Quarles in 1806 
after the birth of the first child, a girl. It was after her 

him settled, and provided him, from time to time with considerable sums of 

money Fan had the influence over him of a white woman and a wife" 

(Catterall, op. cit., II, 375). 

as John M. Langston, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capital 
(Hartford, Conn., 1894), p. 12. 

3 6 Ibid., p. 12. 37 Ibid., p. 13. 


emancipation that the three sons were born to them in 
1809, 1817, and 1829. 

The children were the objects of their father's affection 
and solicitude as well as their mother's love. The oldest boy 
was educated by his father, who required him to appear 
"for his recitations, in his father's special apartments, the 
year round, at five o'clock in the morning; and be ready 
after his duties in such respect had been met, at the usual 
hour, to go with the slave boys of his age to such service 
upon the plantation as might be required of them." 38 This 
boy became so much like his father in physical and mental 
qualities that Captain Quarles made the significant addition 
of Quarles to his name. In remarking upon his father's 
regard for his children, the youngest son wrote: 

Could his tender care of them, in their extreme youth, and his 
careful attention to their education, as discovered by him as soon as 
they were old enough for study, be made known, one could under- 
stand, even more sensibly, how he loved and cherished them; being 
only prevented from giving them his own name and settling upon 
them his entire estate, by the circumstances of his position, which 
would not permit either the one or the other. He did for his sons all 
he could; exercising paternal wisdom, in the partial distribution of his 
property in their behalf and the appointment of judicious executors, 
of his will, who understood his purposes and were faithful in efforts 
necessary to execute them. Thus, he not only provided well for the 
education of his sons, but, in large measure, made allowance for their 
settlement in active, profitable business-life. 39 

The mother probably played no small part in the training 
of their children and in helping to create in them a concep- 
tion of their superior status. 40 She was described by her 
son as 

38 Ibid., p. 20. * 9 Ibid., pp. 15-16. 

4 The following excerpt from the family history of a mulatto tells how 
the slave mother instilled in her mulatto child the idea of his superiority: 


a woman of small stature, substantial build, fair looks, easy and 
natural bearing, even and quiet temper, intelligent and thoughtful, 
who accepted her lot with becoming resignation, while she always 
exhibited the deepest affection and earnest solicitude for her children. 
Indeed, the very last words of this true and loving mother, when she 
came to die, were uttered in the exclamation, "Oh, that I could see 
my children once more!" 41 

After a long life together Captain Quarles and his mulatto 
mistress died in 1834. 

The former, as he neared his end, requested and ordered, that Lucy, 
when she died, should be buried by his side, and, accordingly, upon a 
small reservation in the plantation, they sleep together their long quiet 
sleep. While the humblest possible surroundings mark the spot of 
their burial, no one has ever disturbed or desecrated it. 

During his last sickness, Captain Quarles was attended only by 
Lucy, her children, and his slaves. During the two days his body lay 
upon its bier, in the Great House, it was guarded, specially and tender- 

"My great-grandmother was never married and had only one child who was 
my grandfather and the son of her master. This is quite easily understood 
when one knows that she was sold to my great grandfather at the age of 
twelve. Here she worked as 'house girl* until she was old enough to become 
the cook. I can see my great-grandmother now, tall and robust, with the 
'air' of one who has had contact for years with the aristocracy of the South, 
striving every day to give her child such contacts as would give him, also, 
this superior poise, yet combining with it a comprehension of his limitations. 
She told him that he was different, though the difference was very hard to 
detect and that this little difference, though small, was the cause of him 
eating in the kitchen with her while his master's children who in reality 
were his half-brothers and half-sisters ate in the large dining room of the 
'big house.* Other things of this type she told him, all of the time instilling 
in him the desire to be able some day to eat in a big dining room with large 
laden tables and shining floors. My grandfather grew up around this aris- 
tocratic colonial home never getting a chance to attend school and the only 
way in which he learned to read and write was by his white half-sisters and 
half-brothers mockingly telling him what they learned from their 'pore 
Yankee school teacher* who taught them in their school room in the attic" 
(manuscript document). 
<* Langston, op. cit., p. 13. 


ly, by the noble negro slave, who, when his master was taken sick 
suddenly, and felt that he needed medical assistance, without delay, 
but a few nights before, hurried across the country to the home of the 
physician, and secured his aid for his stricken owner. 42 

In his will of October 18, 1833, Captain Quarles left a 
large part of his estate, including lands and bank stock, to 
his three sons. According to the provisions of the will, if 
they desired to move into free territory the real estate was 
to be sold. Soon after the death of their parents the sons 
departed for Ohio. 

This case represents the highest development of family 
life growing out of the association of the men of the master 
race with the slave women. At the bottom of the scale was 
the Negro woman who was raped and became separated 
from her mulatto child without any violence to her maternal 
feelings; or the slave woman who submitted dumbly or out 
of animal feeling to sexual relations that spawned a name- 
less and unloved half-white breed over the South. Between 
these two extremes there were varying degrees of human 
solidarity created in the intimacies of sex relations and the 
birth of offspring. Sexual attraction gave birth at times to 
genuine affection; and prolonged association created be- 
tween white master and colored mistress enduring senti- 
ment. There were instances where white fathers sold their 
mulatto children ; but more often they became ensnared by 
their affections for their colored offspring. Neither color 
caste nor the law of slavery could resist altogether the cor- 
rosive influence of human feeling and sentiment generated 
in these lawless family groups. The master in his mansion 
and his colored mistress in her special house near by rep- 
sented the final triumph of social ritual in the presence of the 
deepest feeling of human solidarity. 

** Ibid., p. 17. 



How did the Negro family fare when it left the house of 
the master and began its independent career in the stormy 
days of emancipation? What authority was there to take 
the place of the master's in regulating sex relations and 
maintaining the permanency of marital ties? Where could 
the Negro father look for a sanction of his authority in 
family relations which had scarcely existed in the past? 
Were the affectional bonds between mother and child and 
the solidarity of feeling and sentiment between man and 
wife strong enough to withstand the disorganizing effects 
of freedom? In the absence of family traditions and public 
opinion, what restraint was there upon individual impulse 
unleashed in those disordered times? To what extent during 
slavery had the members of the slave families developed 
common interests and common purposes capable of support- 
ing the more or less loose ties of sympathy between those of 
the same blood or household? 

Emancipation was a crisis in the life of the Negro that 
tended to destroy all his traditional ways of thinking and 
acting. To some slaves who saw the old order collapse and 
heard the announcement that they were free men emancipa- 
tion appeared "like notin' but de judgment day." 1 Bishop 
Gaines, recalling the effect of the announcement upon him 
and his fellow slaves, wrote: 

1 Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment (New 
York, 1900), p. 235. 



I shall never forget the moment when I heard the first tidings pro- 
claiming liberty to the captive. Memory holds that hour as the most 
beautiful and enrapturing in all the history of a life which has alter- 
nated between the experience of a debasing servitude and that of a 
joyous and unfettered freedom. 

1 was ploughing in the fields of Southern Georgia. The whole 
universe seemed to be exulting in the unrestraint of the liberty where- 
with God has made all things free, save my bound and fettered soul, 
which dared not claim its birthright and kinship with God's wide 
world of freedom. The azure of a Southern sky bent over me and the 
air was fragrant with the fresh balm-breathing odors of spring. The 
fields and the forests were vocal with the blithe songs of birds, and the 
noise of limpid streams made music as they leaped along to the sea. 

Suddenly the news was announced that the war had ended and 
that slavery was dead. The last battle had been fought, and the 
tragedy that closed at Appomattox had left the tyrant who had 
reigned for centuries slain upon the gory field. 

In a moment the pent-up tears flooded my cheek and the psalm 
of thanksgiving arose to my lips. "I am free," I cried, hardly knowing 
in the first moments of liberty what and how great was the boon I 
had received. Others, my companions, toiling by my side, caught up 
the glad refrain, and shouts and rejoicings rang through the fields and 
forests like the song of Miriam from the lips of the liberated children 
of Israel. 2 

When the news was received that they were free, other 
slaves were bewildered as the boy who said it sounded "like 
Greek' ' to him when his mother whispered with a quiver in 
her voice: "Son, we have been slaves all our lives, and now 
Mr. Abe Lincoln done set us free, and say we can go any- 
where we please in this country, without getting a pass 
from Marse Cage like we used to have to do." 3 Sometimes 

2 W. J. Gaines, The Negro and the White Man (Philadelphia, 1897), pp. 

3 J. Vance Lewis, Out of the Ditch: A True Story of an Ex-slave (Houston, 
Tex., 1910), p. 9. 


when the slaves received a formal notice of their freedom 
from the master, his broken authority proved an ineffectual 
restraint upon their rejoicing. A prominent young Negro 
minister recounts the story of the announcement of freedom 
on the plantation where his grandfather held a responsible 
position : 

The slaves were in the fields chopping the cotton and chanting the 
rhythm of the day as a testimony to the drowsy overseer that they 
were doing his bidding, "Massah" Ridley was on the porch of the 
"big house" fast asleep. The Yankees had ridden up to the mansion, 
and the horses put their hoofs on the low and unrailed porch as if at 
home. Doctor Ridley awakened quickly, surprised, startled, be- 
wildered, perplexed, a riot of color. Some words passed between the 
parties, and then one of the soldiers took something from his pocket 
and read it. By this time "Missus" Ridley had come from the house. 
She too heard the story and saw her husband's eyes suffused with tears, 
but said not a word. Doctor Ridley was trying hard to keep the tears 
back. He summoned Miles and spoke slowly with a tear in his voice: 
"Miles, call all the niggers together." 

The slaves did not know the meaning of Miles' news to them, 
although they had heard rumors that they should sometime be free. 
Few could read, and none had access to newspapers. As they left the 
field they wondered who was to be whipped or who was to be sold or 
what orders were to be given. Half-startled, half-afraid, they wended 
their way through the fields in one silent mass of praying creatures. 
On seeing the Yankees they started back, but "Massah" Ridley 

The master was weeping bitterly. Finally he sobbed, "I called you 
together, Miles" then he stopped. His words were stifled with sobs. 
The slaves were awe-stricken; they had never seen a white man cry. 
Only slaves had tears, they thought. All eyes were fastened on Doc- 
tor Ridley. He was saying something. "All you niggers all you nig- 
gers are free as I am." The surprise was shocking, but in an instant 
in his usual harsh voice he added: "But there ain't going to be any 
rejoicing here. Stay here until the crop is made, and I'll give you pro- 
visions. Go back to work." 


But the slaves did rejoice and loudly, too. Some cried; some 
jumped up and cracked their heels. Charlotte took her younger chil- 
dren in her arms and shouted all over the plantation: "Chillun, didn't 
I tell you God 'ould answer prayer?"* 

The same writer informs us that many of the slaves left 
the plantation immediately. In fact, the right to move about 
was the crucial test of freedom. 5 Some, of course, in whom 
the attitude of subordination was still strong were less bold 
in asserting their newly acquired rights. This was the case 
with a Negro bishop who said: 

One day in 1865 I was plowing with a mare called "Old Jane," and 
I looked and saw the "Yankees." I had heard before of their coming. 
I took out Old Jane and went to the house about three o'clock in the 
afternoon. I was asked why I had come home at that hour. I told 
them "I was afraid the Yankees would steal my horse, so I brought her 
home," but that was not the cause at all. Freedom had come, and I 
came to meet it. 6 

A similar attitude on the part of a slave is recalled by 
Bishop Coppin: 

Father Jones was promptly on hand with Lincoln's proclamation, 
but here was no one present with authority to say to the slave, you 
are free; so all were in suspense. 

Uncle Jim Jones drove his mistress to Cecilton, and some one, a 
white person, told him that he was free now, and it was discretionary 
with him whether or not he drove the carriage back. When Uncle Jim 
reached home he informed every one of what he had heard. When a 

Miles Mark Fisher, The Master's SlaveElijah John Fisher (Phila- 
delphia, 1922), pp. 6-8. 

* "After the coming of freedom," wrote Booker Washington, "there were 
two points upon which practically all the people on our place were agreed, 
and I find that this was generally true throughout the South: that they 
must change their names, and that they must leave the plantation for at 
least a few days or weeks in order that they might really feel sure that they 
were free" (Up from Slavery [New York, 1902], p. 23). 

6 William H. Heard, From Slavery to Bishopric (Philadelphia, 1924), p. 28. 


few evenings after that, his old master himself drove the carriage to 
town and was late returning, Uncle Jim, in order to make a test case, 
would not remain to unharness the horses, but said, in a way that his 
master would be sure to hear it: "There has got to be a new under- 
standing/' which "new understanding," came promptly the next morn- 
ing when "Mars Frankie" approached him to know about the strange 
doctrine which he was preaching around the place. Poor Uncle Jim 
begged pardon, saved his back, and said no more about a "new 

He was too old to be very independent. He continued to live in 
the little house on the place, and work for Marse Frankie, who paid 
him about what he thought his services were worth. He never was 
able to throw off the terrible fear he always had of his master, who, 
by the way, was never cruel to him; but, he finally mustered enough 
courage to go and come at will. 7 

The spirit of submission was not so deeply ingrained in 
all slaves as in this old house servant. Especially was this 
true with the younger slaves. A former slave in Alabama 
remarked not long ago to the writer that the older Negroes 
continued to ask for passes to go to church while the younger 
generation took delight in going off when they chose without 
the pass. In many places, especially those in the path of 
the invading armies, the plantation organization, the very 
basis of the slave system, was swept away. When Sher- 
man's army swept through Georgia, it drew after it thou- 
sands of Negroes from the plantations. Reports that have 
come down to us of the effects of the destruction of the es- 
tablished order show that in some cases even the bond of 
maternal affection between mother and child was severed. 
The hardships of the journey with Sherman were so fearful 
that "children often gave out and were left by their mothers 
exhausted and dying by the roadside and in the fields/' 

7 L. J. Coppin, Unwritten History (Philadelphia, 1920), pp. 91-92. 


Some of the mothers, we are told, "put their children to 
death, they were such a drag upon them, till our soldiers, 
becoming furious at their barbarous cruelty hung two women 
on the spot." 8 But in other cases the shock of war and 
emancipation that uprooted the old social order only re- 
vealed how strong were the bonds of affection between par- 
ents and children and husband and wife. For the same in- 
formant tells us that a woman with twelve children "car- 
ried one and her husband another and for fear she would 
lose the others she tied them all together by the hands and 
brought them all off safely, a march of hundreds of miles. " 9 
Other witnesses who were in a position to observe the 
effects of emancipation on family relations have provided 
similar testimony. For example, in an account which Hig- 
ginson has left us, of the fleeing refugees, we find that 
"women brought children on their shoulders; small black 
boys carried on their backs little brothers equally inky, and, 
gravely depositing them, shook hands. " I0 One who worked 
among the refugees noted the fact that "these people had 
a marvellous way of tracing out missing members of their 
families, and inflexible perseverence in hunting them up." 11 
Numerous instances of the general disposition on the part 
of the emancipated Negro to rejoin his relatives who had 
been sold away could be cited. But we shall let a former 
slave, whose sister was sold away from the family, tell of her 
sister's return after emancipation. 

8 Elizabeth Pearson, War Letters from Port Royal, Written at the Time of 
the Civil War (Boston, 1906), pp. 293-94. 

9 Ibid., p. 294. 

10 Op. cit.,p. 235. 

11 Elizabeth Hyde Botume, First Days among the Contrabands (Boston, 
1893), p. 154. 


My sister tried to locate us and found us by inquiring from place 
to place. She came to the door one day and told me that she was my 
sister but I refused to let her in for I didn't know her and my mother 
had told me not to open the door to strangers, so I didn't let her in. 
She had to go some place and stay until my mother came home. She 
would come and visit us for awhile and she corresponded with us 
after that. I don't think I had the same feeling for her as I had with 
the sister with whom I had been associated all the time. There was 
nothing antagonistic of course but I just didn't know her, that was 
all. She was very fond of me though." 

The strong attachment which, as we have seen, mothers 
showed for their children during the crisis of emancipation 
could be matched with many instances of deep affection be- 
tween husbands and wives and between children and their 
parents. Witness, for example, among the refugees an old 
man with "his sick wife on his back, and a half -grown boy 
(with) his blind daddy, toting him along 'to freedom/ " I3 
But there was another side to the picture which we are able 
to piece together from the recollections that have been pre- 
served. The mobility of the Negro population after emanci- 
pation was bound to create disorder and produce widespread 
demoralization. Thousands of Negroes flocked to the army 
camps where they created problems of discipline as well 
as of health. Some wandered about without any destina- 
tion; others were attracted to the towns and cities. 14 When 
the yoke of slavery was lifted, the drifting masses were left 
without any restraint upon their vagrant impulses and wild 

12 Manuscript document. 

*3 Botume, op. cit., p. 15. Higginson (op. cit., p. 65) cites the case of a 
man who refused to join the army, "saying bluntly that his wife was out of 
slavery with him, and he did not care to fight." 

J < Carter G. Woodson, A Century of Negro Migrations (Washington, D.C., 
1918), pp. 101-7. "It is said that in 1864, 30,000 to 40,000 Negroes had 
come from the plantations to the District of Columbia" (ibid., p. 105). 


desires. The old intimacy between master and slave, upon 
which the moral order under the slave regime had rested, 
was destroyed forever. 15 

** In describing the effects of the destruction of intimacy between the two 
races upon the conduct of the Negroes, Bruce writes: "Even if, in any in- 
stance, a father and mother were to desire to instil a spirit of self-restraint 
into their children, they would not be led to seek, when necessary, the assist- 
ance of their former master, who is now their employer, and who never as- 
sumes the right to intervene, unless the heedlessness or depravity of the 
children is displayed in injuring, destroying, or purloining his property. He 
has no longer authority enough to insist upon order and discipline in the 
family life, or to compel parents to prevent their offspring from running 
wild, like so many young animals. Even when he feels any interest in their 
moral education, irrespective of their connection with the government of 
his own estate, he finds it impossible to come near enough to them to win 
and hold their attention, for child and parent alike shrink from association 
with him. His advances are not cordially met. However keen his sense of 
moral responsibility, therefore, and however earnestly he may wish to prose- 
cute a plan of moral education among the children of his laborers, he runs 
upon an almost insurmountable obstacle in his path at the very beginning, 
and he is generally discouraged from going any further. As far, therefore, 
as he is concerned, the children of the new generation receive no moral in- 
struction at all. Under the old system, the ladies of his family often insti- 
tuted Sunday-schools, to teach the young slaves the leading principles of the 
Christian faith, as well as general rules of good conduct; but this custom, 
which was the source of much benefit to the pupils, has fallen into disuse; 
and as there are now no points of contact between the home life of the 
cabin and that of the planter's residence, no social or moral influence of any 
kind emanates from his domestic circle to enlighten the minds of the chil- 
dren who live on his estate" (Phillip A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a 
Freeman [New York, 1889], p. 4). A former slave gives in more concrete 
term* an account of his feelings when the prospect of freedom seemed to 
destroy the intimate relations between himself and his master's son. "I 
shall never forget," he says, "the feeling of sickness which swept over me. 
I saw no reason for rejoicing as others were doing. It was my opinion that 
we were being driven from our homes and set adrift to wander, I knew not 
where. I did not relish the idea of parting with my young master who was as 
true a friend as I ever had. There was also a very difficult problem for us to 
solve we had three coon dogs which we jointly owned, and I did not see 
how to divide the dogs without hurting his feelings, my feelings or the dogs' 


Promiscuous sexual relations and constant changing of 
spouses became the rule with the demoralized elements in 
the freed Negro population. "Mammy Maria, who had left 
two husbands in Mississippi/' writes Mrs. Smedes, "came 
out in the new country as 'Miss Dabney,' and attracted, as 
she informed her 'white children/ as much admiration as 
any of the young girls, and had offers of marriage too. But 
she meant to enjoy her liberty, she said, and should not 
think of marrying any of them." 16 Some of the confusion 
in marital relations was due, of course, to the separation of 
husbands and wives during slavery and the disorganization 
that followed emancipation. This was one of the problems 
that particularly vexed the northern missionaries who under- 
took to improve the morals of the newly liberated blacks. 
One tells the story of a case which was finally adjusted so 
that the couple settled down and lived a monogamous life : 

One day Uncle Kit came to me greatly troubled. His wife Tina's 
first husband, who had been sold away from her "in the old secesh 
times," had come back and claimed her. "An' I set my eyes by her/' 
said the poor fellow. Tina had been brought up on another plantation 
to which husband number one had now returned. But Kit had be- 
longed to the Smith estate. So the wife went from one place to the 
other, spending a few weeks alternately with each husband. She had 
no children, so had nothing to bind her more to one than the other. 
Kit came to ask me to write a letter to Tina and beg her to come back 
and stay with him. "Fur him want to come to lib, but him shame," 
said poor Kit. He was ready to forgive all her waywardness, "fur no- 
body can tell, ma'am, what I gone through with fur that woman. 
I married her for love, an' I lub her now more an* better than I lub 
myself." We thought such devotion should be rewarded. I expostu- 
lated with Tina over her way of living, and finally threatened to ignore 

feelings, without relinquishing my claims, which I was loathe to do" (Lewis, 
op. cit., pp. 9-10). 

16 Susan Smedes, A Southern Planter (Baltimore, 1887), p. 179. 


her altogether. She seemed surprised, but replied, "I had Sam first, 
but poor brother Kit is all alone." Finally she decided to drop Sam 
and cling to Kit, "fur he, poor fellow, ain't got nobody but me," she 
said. They lived happily together for many years. Then Tina died, 
and Kit refused to allow any person to live in the house with him, 
telling me he never liked confusion. And folks would talk, and "I 
don't want Tina to think I would bring shame upon she," he said. 17 

The confusion in marital relations was often brought to 
light when the freedmen decided or were persuaded to enter 
formal marriage. "A couple came forward," so runs one 
account, "to be married after church, as often happens, 
when Sarah from this place got up and remarked that was 
her husband! Whereupon Mr. Philbrick was called in from 
the yard and promised to investigate and report. Jack said 
he had nothing against Sarah, but he did not live on the 
plantation now, and wanted a wife at Hilton Head." 18 Mar- 
riage as a formal and legal relation was not a part of the 
mores of the freedmen. There was a great deal of supersti- 
tion concerning it, which probably helped to establish it in 
the mores of the Negroes. This is shown in the attitude of a 
recently married husband: 

We were passing the "negro quarters," and one of these men 
brought out a very young and plump baby for us to see, saying they 
had had "a heap of children," but it seemed as if none could live until 

^Botume, op. cit. t pp. 160-61. An educated Negro minister from the 
North who worked among the freedmen remarks concerning their condition : 
"This whole section with its hundreds of thousands of men, women and 
children just broken forth from slavery, was so far as these were concerned, 
lying under an almost absolute physical and moral interdict. There was no 
one to baptize their children, to perform marriage, or to bury the dead. A 
ministry had to be created at once and created out of the material at hand" 
(T. G. Steward, Fifty Years in the Gospel Ministry [Philadelphia, 1922], 
P. 33). 

18 Pearson, op. cit., p. 125. 


they got married, and got their certificate. "But dis gal is boun j to 
live," he said. 1 ' 

Sometimes nothing short of force could get the former slaves 
to abandon their old promiscuous sexual relations: 

We had a case of imprisonment here last week. I learned that old 
Nat's boy, Antony, who wanted to marry Phillis, had given her up 
and taken Mary Ann, July's daughter, without saying a word to me 
or any other white man. I called him up to me one afternoon when I 
was there and told him he must go to church and be married by the 
minister according to law. He flatly refused, with a good deal of im- 
pertinence, using some profane language learned in camp. I there- 
upon told him he must go home with me, showing him I had a pistol, 
which I put in my outside pocket. He came along, swearing all the 
way and muttering his determination not to comply. I gave him lodg- 
ing in the dark hole under the stairs, with nothing to eat. Next morn- 
ing Old Nat came and expostulated with him, joined by old Ben and 
Uncle Sam, all of whom pitched into him and told him he was very 
foolish and ought to be proud of such a chance. He finally gave up 
and promised to go. So I let him off with an apology. Next Sunday 
he appeared and was married before a whole church full of people. 
The wedding took place between the regular church service and the 
funeral, allowing an hour of interval, however. 20 

On the other hand, the marriage ceremony was in many 
cases the confirmation of a union that was based upon gen- 
uine sentiment established over a long period of years. This 
was evidently what it meant to the couple in the following 

Amongst the first persons who came forward to be married were 
Smart and Mary Washington, who had lived together over forty 
years. They were very happy when they walked away together side 
by side, for the first time endowed with the honorable title of husband 

*' Botume, op. cit., p. 158. See William G. Sumner, Folkways (New York, 
1906), pp. 6-7, concerning relation of the aleatory interest to human be- 

20 Pearson, op. cit., p. 95. 


and wife. Smart chuckled well when we congratulated him, saying, 
"Him's my wife for sartin, now. Ef the ole hen run away, I shall cotch 
him sure." We thought there was no danger of good Aunt Mary's 
running away after so many years of faithful service. 21 

When the bonds of sympathy and affection between the 
members of these families were strong enough to remain un- 
broken after emancipation, the subsequent struggle for ex- 
istence during those trying times tended to strengthen fam- 
ily ties. The first problem which the freedman faced was 
that of finding food and shelter. Du Bois writes: 

The first feasible plan to meet this situation was to employ the 
Negroes about the camps, first as servants and laborers, and finally 
as soldiers. Through the wages and bounty money thus received a 
fund of something between five and ten millions of dollars was dis- 
tributed among the freedmen a mere pittance per capita, but enough 
in some cases to enable recipients to buy a little land and start as 
small farmers. All this, however, was mere temporary makeshift; the 
great mass of the freedmen were yet to be provided for, and the first 
Freedmen's Bureau law of 1865 sought to do this by offering to freed- 
men on easy terms the abandoned farms and plantations in the con- 
quered territory. This offer was eagerly seized upon, and there sprang 
up along the Mississippi, in Louisiana, and on the coasts of the 
Carolinas and Georgia series of leased plantations under Government 
direction. When the Freedmen's Bureau took charge it received nearly 
800,000 acres of such land and 5,000 pieces of town property, from the 
leasing of which a revenue of nearly $400,000 was received from freed- 

31 Botume, op. cit., p. 157. "The colored people," wrote Bishop Gaines, 
"gene rally held their marriage (if such unauthorized union may be called 
marriage) sacred, even while they were yet slaves. Many instances will be 
recalled by the older people of the South of the life-long fidelity and affection 
which existed between the slave and his concubine the mother of his chil- 
dren. My own father and mother lived together for over sixty years. I am 
the fourteenth child of that union, and I can truthfully affirm that no 
marriage, however sacred by the sanction of law, was ever more congenial 
and beautiful. Thousands of like instances might be cited to the same effect" 
(op. cit., p. 144). 


men. The policy of President Johnson, however, soon put an end to 
this method of furnishing land to the landless. His proclamation of 
amnesty practically restored the bulk of this seized property to its 
former owners, and within a few years the black tenants were dis- 
possessed or became laborers. 

The act of 1866 was the next and last wholesale attempt to place 
land within the reach of the emancipated slaves. It opened to both 
white and black settlers the public lands of the Gulf States. But 
lack of capital and tools and the opposition of the whites made it im- 
possible for many Negroes to take advantage of this opening, so that 
only about 4,000 families were thus provided for. 

Thus the efforts to provide the freedman with land and tools 
ended, and by 1870 he was left to shift for himself amid new and 
dangerous social surroundings." 

The success which attended the Negro's first efforts to get 
established as a free man depended, of course, to a large 
extent upon his character, intelligence, and efficiency, which 
in turn reflected his schooling during slavery. We are able 
to see how the freedmen got started in the following descrip- 
tion of a freedman who, although he still retained another 
wife on another plantation, settled down with his family 
and through his enterprise and intelligence succeeded in es- 
tablishing himself as a free man: 

He is a black Yankee. Without a drop of white blood in him, he 
has the energy and 'cuteness and big eye' for his own advantage of a 
born New Englander. He is not very moral or scrupulous, and the 
church-members will tell you 'not yet,' with a smile, if you ask 
whether he belongs to them. But he leads them all in enterprise, and 
his ambition and consequent prosperity make his example a very useful 
one on the plantation. Half the men on the island fenced in gardens 
last autumn, behind their houses, in which they now raise vegetables 

M W. E. B. Du Bois, The Negro Landholder of Georgia ("Bulletin of the 
Department of Labor," No. 35 [Washington, 1901]), pp. 647-48; cf. James S. 
Allen, "The Struggle for Land during the Reconstruction Period," Science 
and Society, I, 378-401. 


for themselves, and the Hilton Head markets. Limus in his half-acre 
has quite a little farmyard besides. With poultry-houses, pig-pens, 
and corn-houses, the array is very imposing. He has even a stable, for 
he made out some title to a horse, which was allowed; and then he 
begged a pair of wheels and makes a cart for his work; and not to 
leave the luxuries behind, he next rigs up a kind of sulky and bows 
to the white men from his carriage. As he keeps his table in corre- 
sponding style, for he buys more sugar .... than any other two fami- 
lies, of course the establishment is rather expensive. So, to provide 
the means, he has three permanent irons in the fire his cotton, his 
Hilton Head express, and his seine. Before the fishing season com- 
menced, a pack of dogs for deer-hunting took the place of the net. 
While other families 'carry' from three to six or seven acres of cotton, 
Limus says he must have fourteen. To help his wife and daughters 
keep this in good order, he went over to the rendezvous for refugees 
and imported a family to the plantation, the men of which he hired 

at $8 a month With a large boat which he owns, he usually 

makes weekly trips to Hilton Head, twenty miles distant, carrying 
passengers, produce and fish. These last he takes in an immense 
seine, an abandoned chattel for the use of which he pays Govern- 
ment by furnishing General Hunter and staff with the finer specimens, 
and then has ten to twenty bushels for sale. Apparently he is either 
dissatisfied with this arrangement or means to extend his operations, 
for he asks me to bring him another seine for which I am to pay $70. 
I presume his savings since 'the guns fired at Bay Point' which is the 
native record of the capture of the island amount to four or five 
hundred dollars. He is all ready to buy land, and I expect to see him 
in ten years a tolerably rich man. Limus has, it is true, but few equals 
on the islands, and yet there are many who follow not far behind 
him. 2 * 

In the foregoing instance the transition from slavery to 
freedom was made on the coast of South Carolina where the 
Union army was in control. In some places the slaves were 
turned out without any means of subsistence. Where fami- 
lies had developed a fair degree of organization during slav- 

** Pearson, op. cit., p. 37 n. 


ery, the male head assumed responsibility for their support. 
In fact, the severe hardships became a test of the strength 
of family ties. 

Our owners called us together and told us we were free and had 
to take care of ourselves. There I was with a large, dependent family 
to support. I had no money, no education, no mother nor father to 
whom to look for help in any form. Our former owners prophesied 
that half of us would starve, but not so. It must be admitted, how- 
ever, that we had a hard time, and it seemed at times that the prophesy 
would come true; but the harder the time, the harder we worked and 
the more we endured. For six months we lived on nothing but bread, 
milk and water. We had a time to keep alive; but by praying all the 
time, with faith in God, and believing that He would provide for His 
own, we saved enough to get the next year not only bread, milk and 
water, but meat also. 2 * 

The transition from servitude to freedom took place in 
many places with scarcely any disturbance to the routine 
of life established under slavery. The story as told by one 
who was a participant in the change is as follows: 

There was much commotion in the quarters that Saturday after- 
noon. The overseer had spread the report that the master desired to 
meet every man, woman and child on the plantation, at the big gate 
on the following morning, which was Sunday. So songs were hushed, 
and about nine o'clock, with bated breath and inexpressible anxiety, 
all of the slaves waited for the coming of "Mars Dune." We knew 
not what he would say. 

We had not long to wait. The master had breakfasted, and being 
assured that we were all ready, undertook the task which so many 
men shifted to overseer and subordinates that of informing the slaves 
of their freedom. I shall never forget how he looked on that day. 
His matchless figure seemed more superb, if possible, than usual, and 
the long, gray Prince Albert coat he wore added dignity to grace. 
He wore a black string tie and a white waistcoat, and altogether I 
had seldom seen "Mars Dune" so handsomely dressed. He walked 

*4 Isaac Lane, Autobiography (Nashville, Term., 1916), pp. 56-57. 


with a sprightly step and his head was held erect and his countenance 
looked clear and contented. 

He began his address in a calm, fatherly voice, as follows: "I have 
called you together to impart to you, officially, a piece of news that 
I myself do not regret that you receive. Three days ago Abraham 
Lincoln, the President of the United States, issued a proclamation 
whereby you are made free men and women. Some of you have been 
with me all your lives, and some of you I have bought from other 
owners, but you have all been well fed and clothed and have received 
good treatment. But now you are free to go anywhere you please. 
I shall not drive any one away. I shall need somebody to do my work 
still and every one of you who wants a job shall have employment. 
You may remain right here on the farm. You will be treated as hired 
servants. You will be paid for what you do and you will have to pay 
for what you get. The war has embarrassed me considerably and free- 
ing you makes me a poorer man than I have ever been before, but it 
does not make me a pauper, and so I have decided to divide what I 
have with you. I shall not turn you a-loose in the world with nothing. 
I am going to give you a little start in life. I have made arrangements 
for every man and woman to receive ten dollars a piece and every 
child two dollars. I have also ordered that each family be issued 
enough food to last them a month. I hope you will be honest and 
industrious and not bring disgrace upon those who have brought you 
up. Behave yourselves, work hard and trust in God, and you will 
get along all right. I will not hire anybody today, but tomorrow all 
who want to go to work will be ready when the bell rings." 

It was a pathetic scene and there was hardly a dry eye amongst us. 
We had watched the master so closely that I had not seen young Mars 
Dune in the crowd and was surprised when he cried out, "Say, Joe, 
dog-gone it, I told you you would not have to go away. Come on, and 
let us get our dogs and make Mollie Cottontail cut a jig from the cane 
patch to the woods." And off to the woods we went in a jiffy. 

All told, perhaps there were two hundred Negroes upon the planta- 
tion and when the big bell rang they all reported for duty. Mr. Cage, 
Sr., assigned Isham Stewart over the plow gang; Jeff Thomas over the 
hoe gang; Doc Lewis, my father, superintendent of the ditch gang 
these being considered his most trustworthy men. Mansfield Williams 
was retained as family coachman, and the author of this book was 


given to understand that all time not spent in the ditch was to be at 
the disposal of D. S. Cage, Jr., and of his two brothers, Hugh and 
Albert. I ran errands and attended them when they were at school 
to look after the horses. 

The devotion of these slaves would make a chapter of itself, but 
it is sufficient to say that at the writing of this book, Isham Stewart 
and Jeff Thomas remain upon the plantation, and but for the sarcasm 
of a schoolmate the author might be there, too. But that is another 
story and will be related in another place. 25 

Often the emancipated Negro was unwilling to continue 
as a tenant or a laborer; so we find the more ambitious 
among them undertaking to buy land : 

Miles and Charlotte worked for Doctor Ridley until the summer of 
1864 when they began life anew on a farm of forty-eight acres, upon 
which they had made an initial payment to their former master 

By 1874, Miles paid the last dollar on his farm which had furnished 
a home for his wife, Charlotte, his seventeen children, and his sisters- 
in-law, Jane and Sissey. Just when he was able to rest from his labors, 
he was taken ill, and in the spring of 1875 ne died. 

There was one request that Miles made on his death-bed, after he 
had called his family around him, and that was for Elijah to take 
care of Charlotte and the farm. Although Elijah was only seventeen 
years old, he had shown ability in dealing with the business of the 
farm. Each child had an equal portion of the farm for his inheritance, 
and all were to contribute to the support of their mother and her 

However, farm life appealed less and less to all except Elijah. He 
contracted to buy the inheritances of the other children and assumed 
the care of his mother. He was able the first year to raise four or 
five bales of cotton and several hundred bushels of corn and po- 
tatoes. 26 

Here we have a well-organized family under the authority 
of the father starting out after emancipation as tenants, 
then later undertaking to purchase land, and finally becom- 

*s Lewis, op. cit., pp. 12-14. * Fisher, op. cit., pp. 8, 11-12. 


ing small independent farmers. The transition from slavery 
to freedom was made with little interruption to the habits 
acquired during slavery. The schooling which the father had 
received as a responsible person on the plantation enabled 
him to assume the responsibilities and duties of a free man. 
Upon the father's death, the responsibility for the main- 
tenance of the family and direction of the property was 
passed on to the oldest son, who, in acquiring subsequently 
the interests of his brothers and sisters, assured the contin- 
uance of the family group. 

Two general tendencies are manifest in the fortunes of the 
Negro family during the period of its adjustment to the 
state of freedom. First, following the collapse of the slave 
regime, the families that had achieved a fair degree of or- 
ganization during slavery made the transition without much 
disturbance to the routine of living. In these families the 
authority of the father was firmly established, and the wom- 
an in the role of mother and wife fitted into the pattern of 
the patriarchal household. Moreover, in assuming the re- 
sponsibilities of his new status, the father became the chief, 
if not the sole, breadwinner. Sometimes he acquired land 
of his own and thereby further consolidated the common 
interests of the family group. Second, the loose ties that 
had held men and women together in a nominal marriage 
relation during slavery broke easily during the crisis of 
emancipation. When this happened, the men cut them- 
selves loose from all family ties and joined the great body of 
homeless men wandering about the country in search of 
work and new experience. Sometimes the women, chiefly 
those without children, followed the same course. But more 
often the woman with family ties, whether she had been 
without a husband during slavery or was deserted when 


freedom came, became responsible for the maintenance of 
the family group. Since often her sexual contacts continued 
to be of a more or less casual nature, she found herself, as 
in slavery, surrounded by children depending upon her for 
support and parental affection. Thus motherhood outside of 
institutional control was accepted by a large group of Negro 
women with an attitude of resignation as if it were nature's 
decree. In the three succeeding chapters we shall follow the 
career of the Negro family where motherhood has been free 
on the whole from institutional and communal control and 
the woman has played the dominant role. 


Those who were in a position to observe the Negroes after 
emancipation have left vivid accounts of their demoralized 
family and sex relations. A quarter of a century after the 
Civil War one observer thought that illegitimacy was in- 
creasing on the plantations of the South. He wrote at the 

The number of illegitimate children born to unmarried negresses 
is becoming greater every year, but this, instead of being a lasting 
stain on their reputations or a stumbling-block in the path of their 
material thrift, is an advantage when regarded from a practical point 
of view. If these children have come to an age when they are old 
enough to work, then they constitute a valuable dowry to whoever 
marry their mothers, such women occupying somewhat the position 
of widows with considerable property at their command, which they 
confer absolutely upon their husbands at the hour of marriage. 1 

Even as late as the opening of the present century an 
investigator reported that it was practically impossible to 
compute the percentage of illegitimacy among plantation 
Negroes. "Of forty couples on Cinclaire," he wrote, "who 
reported themselves as married, and who were known well 
by the head overseer, only 20 were legally married in the 
church or by the civil authorities. This would indicate that 
only 50 per cent of the married persons, so reported, were 
legally married." 2 The high rate of illegitimacy on this plan- 

1 Phillip A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman (New York, 1889), 
pp. 19-20. 

a J. Bradford Laws, The Negroes of Cinclaire Central Factory and Calumet 
Plantation, Louisiana (U.S. Department of Labor Bull. 38 [January, 1902]), 
pp. 102-3. 



tation was hardly typical of conditions among the rural 
Negroes but probably reflected the extreme social disorgani- 
zation on the industrialized plantations. At the present time 
illegitimacy among the rural Negroes, though only ap- 
proaching this figure in relatively few isolated cases, is still 
high when compared with the situation among the whites. 
Although we have no precise measure of the extent of 
Negro illegitimacy in rural communities, our most reliable 
sources of information indicate that from 10 to 20 per cent 
of the Negro children are born out of wedlock. 3 In the rural 
areas of Kentucky, during the years 1920, 1924, and 1925, 
not more than 10 per cent of the Negro births were illegiti- 
mate, while in Maryland such births amounted to 16-18 
per cent. 4 Not only do these wide variations appear among 
the various southern states for which we have reports, but 
similar variations can be noted within the same state. A 
survey of rural illegitimacy in Orange County, North Caro- 
lina, for the years 1923-27 showed that about 8 per cent 
of the Negro births were illegitimate. 5 This was much lower 
than the rate for the entire Negro population in the state 
where the rate had mounted from 12.8 in 1921 to 17.3 in 
I930. 6 Although this increase was probably due to the move- 

a E. Franklin Frazier, "Analysis of Statistics on Negro Illegitimacy in 
the United States," Social Forces, XI, 249-57. 

See Table i, Appen. B. 

s See Wiley Britton Sanders (director), Negro Child Welfare in North 
Carolina: A Rosenwald Study (Chapel Hill, 1933), p. 282. 

6 Ibid., p. 277. These figures, which comprise both the rural and the urban 
rates, are higher than the rural rates. Nevertheless, the figures for the rural 
Negro population of Orange County are lower than the figures for the rural 
Negro population of North Carolina in the reports for the birth-registration 
area for the years 1920, 1924, and 1925. The government figures for these 
years were 12.2, 13.4, and 13.1, respectively. The figures for the entire state 
as reported by the North Carolina State Board of Health are not the same 


ment of Negroes into urban areas where illegitimacy rates 
are generally higher, there are rural areas in the South where 
illegitimacy is more frequent among Negroes than in urban 
areas. For example, in the relatively isolated and stable 
Negro population on St. Helena Island, 30 per cent of the 
births are illegitimate. 7 These differences in illegitimacy 
rates, even where they are approximately accurate, are not 
a measure of the social significance of the phenomenon in 
the various communities, for statistics on illegitimacy are 
only an enumeration of the violations of the formal require- 
ments of the law. Only when we view illegitimacy in rela- 
tion to the organization of Negro life in the South does its 
social significance become apparent. 

In the region stretching from North Carolina to eastern 
Texas the majority of the rural Negro population are living 
under a modified form of the plantation. Although the slave 
quarters have disappeared and the school bell that in some 
cases formerly called slaves to labor now breaks the silence 
of the most solitary regions, Negro life follows the folkways 
that emancipation modified but did not destroy. Hundreds 
of thousands of landless peasants still look to their white 
landlords for meager advances in food and clothing until 
"the crop is made." And when the crop, which is usually 
cotton, is sold, the Negro "signs up" for another year. 
Whether he gets a new pair of overalls for himself or a new 
cotton dress for his wife or receives a larger or smaller "ad- 
vance" at the store, all depend upon the price of cotton. 
Thus the ignorant Negro peasant's life moves in an orbit 

as those given in the reports for the birth-registration area because the 
latter do not include stillbirths. 

' T. J. Woofter, Jr., Black Yeomanry (New York, 1930), p. 207. 


formed by great economic forces beyond his control or 

But, in submitting to an inescapable fate, the Negro still 
feels that through prayer and religion he can soften his hard 
lot in this world or at least find compensation for it in the 
next. Therefore, the church remains the most important in- 
stitution, enlisting his deepest loyalties and commanding 
his greatest sacrifices. When an old woman who eked out 
a living on a small "patch" that was once a part of a large 
plantation in Alabama said, "I plants and pray Jesus it 
increase," she expressed a faith that inspires the efforts of 
many a Negro peasant. Another woman who expressed her 
resignation sardonically with the remark, "Colored folks has 
no chance; white folks can bring back slavery if they wants," 
was an exception. For she had been as far as Ohio once and 
had seen something of the world. But the majority of these 
simple peasant folk are concerned less with human arrange- 
ments than with divine dispensation. Hence, their preoccu- 
pation with thoughts of God, who has brought them 
"through many storms" and "held back the hand of death," 
as a Negro prayed at the funeral of one of the leaders in his 
community. Death, the ever present specter, releases one 
from the poor habitation of the flesh and, if all accounts are 
right with God, permits one to enter "a building of God not 
made with hands." 

However destitute of worldly goods one may be, he bears 
his lot patiently as long as he is consoled by the prospect 
that his burial will be attended by the pageantry for which 
these rural Negro funerals are noted. The lament of one 
old woman, "If I die today or tomorrow I ain't got a penny 
to bury me," voiced the despair of one who had lost the last 
consolation that life has to offer. Consequently, organiza- 


tions for mutual aid are chiefly for the purpose of securing 
its members a proper burial. Even the poorest member of 
the community scrapes together a few pennies each month 
in order to pay his dues in the "burial 'sociation" or the 
" 'nevolent." The chief appeal of the more formal and ra- 
tional organizations like insurance companies is that they 
will enable one to be "put away right." 

The advent of the insurance company is indicative of the 
process by which the isolation of these regions is being 
broken down. Concrete highways are beginning to pene- 
trate the most remote parts of the South. Along these 
avenues of communication new ideas as well as new means 
of transportation are finding their way into these twilight 
zones of civilization. By means of these highways an old 
automobile brings a modern city as close as a town was be- 
fore. A trip to the cinema in the city opens up an undreamed 
world of romance and adventure. Better schools are bring- 
ing in better-educated teachers to give new ideas to the 
younger generation. The men who can no longer depend 
upon cotton seek a living on the roads, at the mills, and at 
logging and turpentine camps, while the women go to town 
to work as maids or cooks. The migrations during the World 
War uprooted many from the old ways of life to which they 
can never return. The effect of these various changes has 
been to destroy the simple folkways and mores and to create 
confusion in thought and contradictions in behavior. 

Illegitimacy in a community in this area is affected by 
all these social and economic forces. For example, the fact 
brought out in a survey of 612 families in a section of Macon 
County, Alabama, in 1931, that 122 women in 114 of these 
families had had 191 illegitimate children means little un- 
less these cases are seen in relation to the social and economic 


organization of Negro life. In some cases the illegitimacy 
had taken place during the disorganization following eman- 
cipation. For example, there was the case of an old woman, 
who was born "Christmas Eve before Freedom Year," 
working with her daughter on a "one-horse farm" which 
was sublet from a more prosperous Negro tenant. Her father 
had been sold away from his first wife during slavery. She 
was the only survivor among thirteen children whom her 
father had by a second wife. When she was fifteen, she was 
married to her first husband, of whom she said, "I tried 
nineteen years to make a husband out of him but he was the 
most no 'count man God ever made. Since I seen I could 
make no husband out of him I left him." It was during the 
next twelve years when, being "so glad to be free and going 
about," she "found her twenty-seven year old daughter." 
When she decided to remarry, according to her story, she 
went to the judge for a divorce, but he told her, "If that 
no 'count man has been away from you twelve years you 
are already divorced and can marry any time you want." 
She left her second husband after seventeen years. Concern- 
ing her break with him she said, "Me and him parted; I 
ain't seen nor heard from him since. They tell me he is 
dead." This old woman, unlike many others, was not con- 
verted until she was fifty-six. Although she does not attend 
church regularly, she is convinced that "God don't want 
nothing but pure in heart." 

The career of the daughter has been similar to that of 
her mother. She had three children by a man to whom she 
was married. After the death of her husband she started 
"slipping up on the hill" to see a man who was the father 
of the baby that she was expecting in a few days. Although 
this woman was "moral" to the extent that she boasted 


that she did "not bother any other woman's husband," she 
was seemingly unconscious of the moral significance of 
motherhood outside of marriage. The father of her unborn 
child wanted to marry her, but she was unwilling to marry 
him because she did not "want to be bothered with a hus- 
band" and was glad that her first husband died. Instead 
of being ashamed of her pregnancy, she was proud of the 
fact that she was to become a mother and had been con- 
gratulated by the women in the neighborhood on her fer- 
tility. Some months later this woman with her four chil- 
dren and their grandmother were living apparently con- 
tented in the two-room shack with a sheet-iron covering 
where they had been four years. But how much longer one 
cannot say, for the old grandmother remarked, "Hit ain't 
good to stay in one place; jes gets tired; 111 be gone from 
here t 'reckly." 

This woman was not alone in her attitude toward mother- 
hood outside of marriage. The same attitude was apparent 
in the case of the daughter of the sixty-five-year-old woman 
whose husband "jes swole up with dropsy and died." The 
daughter was one of three living children out of ten. The 
mother said that her children "jes got sick and died with 
fever and pneumonia." The mother and daughter were 
working as day laborers for fifty cents a day. Although the 
mother boasted that she had been married only once and 
had lived with her husband forty years, she remarked with 
seeming indifference that her daughter with a five-year-old 
child was not married. She added, concerning her daughter, 
"She started to get married, but didn't; liable to marry 
after while." 

The daughter, on her part, appeared completely uncon- 
scious of any violation of the mores in having children out- 


side of marriage. All that she seemed to be aware of was 
that she loved her child and would not be separated from 
it for anything because, according to her, " 'tis all the com- 
pany I got back here." She was still having sex relations in- 
frequently with the father of her child whom she had gone 
with "a pretty good while. " The prospect of having another 
child did not disturb her because, as she said, "Sometimes 
I wants another child to match this one." But that she 
should marry before having another child seemed to her 
quite unnecessary and irrelevant to the matter of mother- 

The attitudes of these women indicate that they regard 
sex relations as normal behavior during courtship which 
may or may not lead to marriage. When it results in the 
birth of a child, certain obligations are thereby imposed 
upon the mother. These obligations are the obligations 
which every mother should feel toward her offspring. The 
unmarried mother is as sensitive as the legally married 
mother to what is expected of the woman who is a mother. 
A certain distinction attaches to being fruitful. To say that 
a woman "never did find anything," meaning that she has 
never had a child, may imply disparagement as well as com- 
miseration. Motherhood signifies maturity and the fulfil- 
ment of one's function as a woman. But marriage holds 
no such place in the esteem of many of these women. If 
they marry the father of their illegitimate offspring, it is 
not due to the fact that the woman regards it as an obliga- 
tion on the part of the man. He may suggest marriage be- 
cause he wants someone to make a home for him and he in 
return is willing to provide subsistence for his family. The 
woman's response to the suggestion of marriage will depend 
upon a number of considerations. 


Often the parents may think that their daughter is too 
young to assume the duties of a wife. Here we should note 
that in many of these rural communities where relation- 
ships are sympathetic and informal and marriage and the 
family do not have an institutional character, the father 
of the girl's child is not guilty in the eyes either of her family 
or of the community of any offense against the integrity of 
her family. 8 Thirty- three of the 122 unmarried women re- 
ferred to above were daughters living at home with their 
children begotten out of wedlock. One of these women was 
one of three daughters whose parents were working a "one- 
horse" farm for a bale of lint cotton as rental and were re- 
ceiving two dollars and a half a month as an "advance" for 
food. They had worked on one place twelve years, but, like 
many of these tenants, had "jes' got tired and 'cide to move." 
During the previous year their former landlord had taken 
their cow, and they received seed from the Red Cross. 
When the fifteen-year-old daughter became a mother, she 
was expelled from church. The mother's indifference toward 
the action of the church was expressed in her comment: 
"Dey told me dey put her out of church; dat's de' rules." 
But, so far as she was concerned, she did not want her 
daughter to marry. The illegitimate child, for whom the 
grandmother had got a name from a piece of newspaper, 
was taken into the family. 

Again, the woman may not want to marry because of 
the obligations which marriage imposes. One woman did 
not marry the father of her child when he proposed it to 
her because "he was too mean." Even when for any reason 

8 When a conventional social worker remonstrated with an expectant 
mother for not wanting to marry the father of her child, on the grounds 
that she should do so in order to give the child a name, the woman naively 
responded: "Yes mam, Fse gwine to gi' it a name." 


the couple do not marry, the man may continue to visit 
the woman and bring presents in the form of clothes for 
the child. Sometimes this association continues until the 
couple decide to marry and work on their own. Of the same 
122 women, mentioned above, who had had illegitimate 
children, 24 were married, and 14 of these were married to 
the father of their illegitimate offspring. One young couple 
who had been married five years and was working thirty 
acres for "a little bale of cotton" rental had left their il- 
legitimate child with her mother. Generally, however, the 
children before marriage are reared along with the other 
children. Whether the wife's children are his or not, the hus- 
band will take them into the family. A couple who were 
day laborers had a child in the family whom the woman 
had before marriage. He expressed his approval of the pres- 
ence of the child with the explanation that, when his wife 
had the child, she did not belong to him. The husband may 
also bring his share of illegitimate children to the family 
group when he marries. In some cases both husband and 
wife may start their married life each with illegitimate chil- 
dren; and, as it sometimes happens, the husband may add 
his after marriage. 

A description of one of these families in which illegitimate 
children have the same status as those born in wedlock will 
make clearer the character of these family groups, which 
are held together by ties of sympathy and through co-opera- 
tion in making a living: 

The husband, fifty-six, and wife, forty-five have been married for 
twenty years. They have had eight children all of whom are living 
except one. Their children are grown and distributed as follows: on 
a neighboring plantation there are two married sons, one with eight 
children and the other with three, and an unmarried daughter with 
a child. The other three daughters are married, one twice, with chil- 


dren, and are living on as many different plantations. The seventh 
child is a son thirty-one years old who was born to the husband and 
wife when they first began their sexual contacts. The family group 
as it is now constituted consists of the husband, his wife and the 
husband's illegitimate twenty-three-year-old daughter with her illegit- 
imate child ten months old. After the man and woman finally mar- 
ried, the wife had their oldest son, who was working in the mines in 
Birmingham, bring her husband's illegitimate daughter home. The 
family, including the four mentioned, is farming fourteen acres; while 
the husband supplements the family income by working as a car- 
penter's helper on a government building ten miles away. Neither 
the unmarried mother nor any other member of the family had any 
complaint to make against the father, especially since he gives the 
mother anything she requests for the child. 

Some of the illegitimate offspring of these women are due 
to their relations with white men. Although there are indi- 
cations that these relations are not as widespread as during 
slavery, 9 they are still responsible for some of the burden 
which the unmarried Negro mother must bear. The case of 
a great-grandmother who was just managing to survive on 
a "small patch' ' is one of those instances in which the mu- 
latto daughters of these illicit unions follow the example of 
their mothers. This woman had her first child when she was 
"in knee dresses going to school/' by a white man, who, 
according to her story, was a county judge. She was later 
married but did not have any children by her husband whom 
she left because he had relations with her sister-in-law. 
However, she had a number of illegitimate children, most 
of whom were dead, by several men. By one man, who was 
married, she had six children. Concerning her relation with 
this man's wife, she said: "Me and his wife got along like 
two children; had no fuss or nothing." Her half -white 

9 See chap. iv. 


daughter had a child by a white man before she was twenty. 
During the war the daughter, with her mulatto child, mi- 
grated to Birmingham and later to the North. The pro- 
miscuous sex relations of this woman, who "still frolics and 
has a beau," had resulted in syphilitic infection which was 
doubtless responsible for two stillbirths and three mis- 

Our account, so far, of illegitimacy in the rural communi- 
ties in the South would seem to indicate that neither the 
families of the women nor the community express any moral 
disapproval of this type of behavior. That this is not uni- 
versally true is suggested by the remark of the wife in a 
family that included two of her children before marriage as 
well as two of her husband's since marriage. She explained, 
concerning her illegitimate children, that she had had them 
before becoming a member of the church. In fact, the com- 
munity expresses its disapproval of moral delinquencies al- 
most exclusively through the church. We have previously 
noted cases in which the women have been turned out ol 
church because they gave birth to illegitimate children. In 
those cases the discipline of the church did not appear as a 
very effective means of social control. As a rule, church dis- 
cipline amounts to little more than a mere formality, al- 
though it may be supported by a genuinely strong senti- 
ment on the part of few individual members. The delin- 
quent may return as soon as she is willing to make a confes- 
sion of guilt and promise to avoid such behavior in the 
future. These performances are seldom expressive of any 
contriteness of heart. As one delinquent remarked smilingly, 
she returned after a month and "beg' pardon." 

The effectiveness of the church as an institution of con- 
trol over sex behavior is dependent upon the character of the 


family life and other social relations in these communities. 
In the better-organized communities where the church and 
other forms of communal enterprises are supported by fami- 
lies with some property and traditions of regular family life, 
the church reflects the character of its constituents and in 
turn controls to some extent their behavior. But among the 
impoverished and illiterate peasants scattered over the 
plantations of the Black Belt, even the church is only a 
poorly organized expression of a weak community conscious- 
ness. The really important social bonds are the sympathetic 
ties existing between the members of the more or less isolated 
family groups. In some of these families the parents en- 
deavor through strict discipline to prevent their daughters 
from becoming mothers before marriage. But even the 
strictest family discipline may prove ineffectual when it is 
not supported by the opinion of the community and is op- 
posed to what is regarded as normal behavior. Since family 
feeling rests upon a firmer basis than moral principles, par- 
ents may ofttimes accommodate themselves to the disap- 
proved conduct of their children, especially if the latter are 
grown. This was apparently the situation in the case of the 
family of an old couple who boasted that they had both 
been married only once and had been together between 
thirty-nine and forty years, although their daughter was 
living with a man near by without being married. 

This family, including the husband, his wife, and their 
seventeen-year-old daughter, was working "a one-horse farm 
on halves." Unlike most of these tenants, they owned two 
cows and had a fair garden. Except for two years during 
the war when they went to Virginia to "public work" on the 
road, they had been farming forty years. The wife was fif- 
teen when she married and had given birth to thirteen chil- 


dren, seven of whom were dead. Of the four living sons, all 
of whom were married, two were working in Birmingham 
and the other two in Louisiana. Although the mother per- 
mitted her seventeen-year-old daughter to go to picnics oc- 
casionally, she "held her foot to the fire" where boys were 
concerned. But this discipline seemingly had no effect upon 
their twenty-nine-year-old daughter who was living just 
across the road on a twenty-acre farm. This daughter, whose 
husband had left her for another woman three years previ- 
iously, was apparently the head of a family of four chil- 
dren. A girl, sixteen, with a two-month-old illegitimate 
child, and a boy, thirteen, were her own children; while the 
fourth child was the daughter of her brother who had died 
in Birmingham. During the past year the mother herself 
had given birth to a child, presumably illegitimate, that 
had died. 

The explanations of this woman in regard to the illegiti- 
macy of her daughter and the man in the house are typical 
of the attempts on the part of some of these women to 
reconcile their behavior with what they know to be the dom- 
inant mores. The father of her daughter's illegitimate child, 
explained the mother, said that he was going to marry her 
daughter. In regard to the presence of the man in the house, 
who was probably the father of her dead child, she as well 
as her parents across the road explained that he was a 
"boarder" in the house. Nevertheless, the "boarder" was 
assisting the woman in farming "twenty acres on halves." 

The simple folkways of these peasant folk are conflicting 
more and more with the ideals and standards of the larger 
world as their isolation is being destroyed. Moreover, the 
mobility of the population and the wider contacts are de- 
stroying the sympathetic relationships that were the basis 


of the old simple folkways. Some of these women have 
achieved some sophistication of outlook as compared with 
the older generation. The breaking-down of the isolation 
of these communities is probably reflected in the incidence 
of syphilis among the population. Wassermann examina- 
tions of one-fourth of the Negroes in this Alabama county 
showed positive reactions for 35 per cent of them. 10 In 
some families the infection undoubtedly originated through 
the contacts which the men had with women in logging 
camps and cities. In other cases it was due to the more 
promiscuous relations of the younger generation. For ex- 
ample, the old couple who boasted of forty years of unbroken 
married life were found to have negative reactions; while 
the reactions of their daughter and granddaughter across the 
road with the illegitimate child were positive. 

As the women in these rural communities move about 
and come into contact with the outside world, illegitimacy 
loses its harmless character in becoming divorced from the 
folkways of these simple peasants. It becomes a part of the 
general disorganization of family life, in which the satisfaction 
of undisciplined impulses results in disease and in children 
who are unwanted and uncared for. The story of two women 
living in a two-room shack on a six-acre patch which they 
were working will show the degradation of some of these 

Flora, who claimed to be eighteen but was probably older, and 
Ora, thirty-five, were third cousins who decided to farm the "six acre 
patch on halves" with an "advance" of five dollars a month between 

10 From a paper by Surgeon C. C. Wenger, U. S. Public Health Service, 
and Dr. H. C. Ricks, epidemiologist, Mississippi State Board of Health, 
"The Public Health Aspect of Syphilis in the Negro Race," read before the 
Public Health Section of the Southern Medical Association, Louisville, Ken- 
tucky, November 11-14, 


them. Flora had left home four years previously when her father died. 
She was unable to get along with her family, consisting of her widowed 
mother, who had an illegitimate child, two brothers, and two sisters, 
one of whom also had an illegitimate child. When she was thirteen 
she began to have sexual intercourse with a boy with whom she con- 
tinued to associate for three years. But after leaving home, she roamed 
about and had sexual relations with seven other men with whom she 
was associated for a few months or so. She was jailed for cutting one 
of her lovers. Her version of the story was: "Me and him just got into 
it in Tuskegee. He just boy friend of mine. Got into fight. I cut him 
deep in the arm. White man who raised him had me 'rested." While 
she was in jail the doctor found that she had "bad blood." Flora 
started going with her present boy friend, a chauffeur, when the father 
of her illegitimate child went off. Ora has had experiences similar to 
Flora's and was also found to be syphilitic. Her illegitimate eighteen- 
year-old child stays with her father. Ora lives in one of the rooms 
with her "boy friend" who visits her occasionally. Men's overalls 
were hanging in Flora's room, which was furnished with a broken-down 
bed and a table with a tin water basin. As Flora told her story, she 
was lying on the bed twitching and moaning with pain which, she said, 
was due to her ovaries because "it hurts different from female hurts 
on the side." 

The extreme degradation revealed here contrasts sharply 
with those cases in which illegitimate children are taken into 
the girl's family or where the mother and her illegitimate 
offspring form a natural family group held together by ma- 
ternal feeling. In cases like those just described, mother- 
hood becomes an obstacle to women who have broken all 
social bonds and are seeking the satisfaction of individualis- 
tic impulses. Birth control is practically unknown to these 
women, although a few have a notion that there are methods 
for preventing conception. A twenty-four-year-old mother 
of two children, who was working a "one-horse farm on 
halves" with an old "auntie" by marriage, was a case of this 
sort. Her older child was by her husband who had been 


killed at a mill; while the younger child was by "an old 
sweetheart" after her husband's death. She had not mar- 
ried this man because "he was too mean." Since, as this 
woman remarked, "every one pleasures hisself who gets a 
chance," she wished that she knew how to have sexual inter- 
course without having children. Significantly enough she 
often went with her "boy friend" to the cinema and the 
dances in town and had a slightly romantic notion of sex 
which was uncommon among these women. 

In spite of the novel ideas and new conceptions of life 
that are slowly penetrating these regions, the great mass of 
women still bear motherhood patiently; and in many cases 
they carry on the struggle for existence without the assist- 
ance of a man. In the following chapter we shall follow the 
career of the Negro mother as she has carried on this struggle 
alone and has thereby assumed a dominant position in fam- 
ily relations. 


Only women accustomed to playing the dominant role 
in family and marriage relations (if we may regard the 
slaves as having been married) would have asserted them- 
selves as the Negro women in Mississippi did during the 
election of 1868. We are told that, 

if a freedman, having obtained [a picture of Grant], lacked the cour- 
age to wear it at home on the plantation in the presence of "ole marsa 
and missus" or of "the overseer," his wife would often take it from 
him and bravely wear it upon her own breast. If in such cases the 
husband refused to surrender it, as was sometimes the case, and hid 
it from her or locked it up, she would walk all the way to town, as 
many as twenty or thirty miles sometimes, and buy, beg, or borrow 
one, and thus equipped return and wear it openly, in defiance of hus- 
band, master, mistress, or overseer. 1 

These women had doubtless been schooled in self-reliance 
and self-sufficiency during slavery. As a rule, the Negro 
woman as wife or mother was the mistress of her cabin, and, 
save for the interference of master or overseer, her wishes 
in regard to mating and family matters were paramount. 
Neither economic necessity nor tradition had instilled in her 
the spirit of subordination to masculine authority. Emanci- 
pation only tended to confirm in many cases the spirit of 
self-sufficiency which slavery had taught. 

When emancipation came, many Negro mothers had to 
depend upon their own efforts for the support of themselves 

1 A. T. Morgan, Yazoo; or, on the Picket Line of Freedom in the South 
(Washington, D.C., 1884), p. 232. 



and their children. Their ranks were swelled by other wom- 
en who, in seeking sex gratification outside of marriage, 
found themselves in a similar situation. Without the assist- 
ance of a husband or the father of their children, these 
women were forced to return to the plow or the white man's 
kitchen in order to make a livelihood for their families. 
From that time to the present day, as we have seen in the 
preceding chapter, each generation of women, following in 
the footsteps of their mothers, has borne a large share of the 
support of the younger generation. Today in the rural sec- 
tions of the South, especially on the remnants of the old 
plantations, one finds households where old grandmothers 
rule their daughters and grandchildren with matriarchal 
authority. Sometimes their authority dates from the days 
following emancipation when, in wandering about the coun- 
try, they "found" their first child. 

It is, of course, difficult to get a precise measure of the 
extent of these maternal households in the Negro popula- 
tion. The 1930 census showed a larger proportion of families 
with women heads among Negroes than among whites in 
both rural and urban areas. 2 Moreover, it also appeared 
that in the cities a larger proportion of Negro families were 
under the authority of the woman than in the rural areas. 
In the rural-nonfarm areas of southern states from 15 to 
25 per cent of the Negro families were without male heads; 

2 The 1930 census (see Table 2, Appen. B) gave an enumeration of families 
with woman heads. The general situation in regard to Negro families may be 
briefly summarized as follows: (i) the proportion of families with woman 
heads is higher in the South than in the North or West; (2) in all three 
sections it is higher in urban areas than in either rural-farm or rural-nonfarm 
areas; (3) it is higher among tenants than among owners in the urban areas 
but shows the opposite tendency in rural areas; and (4) it is lowest in the 
rural-farm areas of the North and the West. 


while in the rural-farm areas the proportion ranged from 
3 to 15 per cent. In the rural-farm areas tenant families 
had a much smaller proportion with woman heads than 
owners, except in those states where a modified form of the 
plantation regime is the dominant type of farming. For 
example, in the rural-farm area of Alabama between 13 and 
14 per cent of both tenant and owner families were without 
male heads. Although rural areas showed a smaller propor- 
tion of families without male heads than urban areas, still 
it is in the rural areas of the South that we find the maternal 
family functioning in its most primitive form as a natural 
organization. In spite of the fact that official statistics on 
the marital relations of these women are of doubtful ac- 
curacy, a closer view of census materials on the families in 
three southern counties in 1910 and 1920 throws additional 
light on the extent and character of these maternal house- 
holds in this region. 3 

Table i indicates that from a fifth to a fourth of the 
families in the three counties two in the Black Belt and 
the third in the coastal region were without a male head. 

3 Statistical data on the families in these three counties represent approxi- 
mately zoo families from each of the ten precincts in Macon County, Ala., 
and practically all the Negro families in Issaquena County, Miss., and Hert- 
ford County, N.C. These families were taken from the original census re- 
turns. They were not the "families" or households as denned by the census 
but included the following types of relationships: (i) a married couple and 
their children, adopted, and step-children, if any; (2) a married person whose 
spouse is not living at home and the children of that person if any; (3) a 
widowed or divorced person and the children, if any; (4) a single man and 
woman who, from the information in the "relation to the head of the house" 
column, or from other information on the schedule, appear to be living as 
man and wife; and (5) a single girl who has an illegitimate child where this 
was clear. These families have been classified according to the color of the 
wife. The families in which no woman was present have been classified in 
the totals according to the color of the male head of the family. 


In each of the counties in 1910 the families in which the 
wife was a mulatto had a smaller proportion without a male 
head than the families with a black wife or mother. 4 The 



1910 AND 1920 








Families with 
Woman Head 


Families with 
Woman Head 





Hertford County, 



















6 7 





Macon County, Ala. 

Issaquena County, 

smaller proportion of families without a male head among 
the mulattoes was doubtless due to the relatively higher 
economic and cultural status of this class, which had less 
illiteracy but a higher rate of homeownership than the 

The writer is aware of the criticism which can be brought against the 
use of the census classification of blacks and mulattoes as an index to the 
extent of mixed-bloods among the Negroes. At the census of 1910 the term 
"black" included all persons who were "evidently full-blooded Negroes," 
while the term "mulatto" included "all other persons having some propor- 
tion or perceptible trace of Negro blood" (Bureau of the Census, Negro 
Population, i7QO-igi5 [Washington, 1918], p. 207). The same definition of 
mulattoes and of full-blooded Negroes was used in 1920. Although the Cen- 


blacks. 5 In 1920 the mulattoes in the North Carolina county 
still showed a smaller proportion of families without male 
heads; while in the Black Belt counties the standing of the 
mulattoes was reversed in one instance and was the same 
as the blacks in the other. The migrations during the war 
might have been responsible for the change in the relative 
position of the two classes in the Black Belt counties, since 
the population of both counties decreased between 1910 and 
1920. This much, at least, is true: the increase in the pro- 
portion of families without a male head among the mulattoes 
in these latter counties was accompanied by a decrease in the 
number of homeowning families among this class. 6 

We can get a better conception of the relation of home- 
ownership to stable and normal family relations by examin- 
ing the marital status of these women who are heads of 
families. Although our figures are not absolutely accurate, 
they reveal to much greater extent the real nature of the 
conjugal relations of these women than the published statis- 
tics. 7 We have, in addition to the two usual classifications 

sus Bureau admits the uncertainty of the classification, since the distinction 
"depends largely upon the judgment and care employed by the enumera- 
tors," the classification probably contains on the whole as much accuracy as 
one could obtain. 

s See Tables 3 and 4, Appen. B. 

6 See Table 4, Appen. B. 

i The Census Bureau made the following statement concerning the ac- 
curacy of data on marital condition of Negroes: "It is recognized that the 
error attaching to the return of marital condition may be considerable. In 
some cases males who are or have been married, but are living apart from 
their families, may return themselves as single; females who have never 
been married, especially mothers with young children dependent upon them, 
may return themselves as either married, widowed, or divorced; married 
females deserted by their husbands may return themselves as widowed, the 
deserting husbands returning themselves as single; widowed males may re- 


widowed and divorced two others : women who apparently 
had been married but were separated from their husbands 




COUNTIES, 1910 AND 1920 




















Hertford County, N.C. 












Renters. . . . 











Unknown. . . 











Macon County, Ala. 




















Unknown. . . 











Issaquena County, Miss. 












Renters. . . . 











Unknown . . . 











and women who had had only irregular relations with men. 
For example, we find that in Issaquena County, Mississippi, 

turn themselves as single; divorced males may return themselves as either 
single or widowed; and divorced females may return themselves as widowed. 
Where the return of marital condition is made by a third person, who does 


in 1910, of the 671 women heads of families, 159, or 21 per 
cent, were separated from their husbands and 66, or about 
10 per cent, had had only irregular relations with men. In 
Hertford County, North Carolina, for the same year, 14.1 
per cent of the women heads of families were separated, and 
34.6 per cent had had only irregular relations with men; 
while the separated and the irregular unions each comprised 
about 14 per cent of the women heads of families in Macon 
County, Alabama. After making allowance for the sepa- 
rated and those who have had only irregular associations 
with men, the majority of these women are classified as 
widows. This is true of the blacks as well as the mulattoes 
and of the tenants as well as of the homeowners. But an 
important difference appears between the women who own 
their homes and those who are renters or whose home tenure 
is unknown. Among the homeowners from 80 to 100 per 
cent of the women are included under widowhood, whereas 
for the renters and those of unknown tenure only from 50 
to 70 per cent were in this class. This was true of both the 
blacks and the mulattoes and seems to indicate that widow- 
hood among the homeowners was generally real widowhood. 8 

not know the facts, it is probably commonly presumed, and in some cases 
erroneously, that persons living apart from their families, especially males, 
are single. The result of these errors in combination would be, as regards 
the classification of males, overstatement of the number single and under- 
statement of the number married, widowed, or divorced, and as regards the 
classification of females, overstatement of the number married, and widowed, 
and understatement of the number single or divorced" (Negro Population, 
1790-1915, p. 235). 

8 See Table 5, Appen. B. Concerning the accuracy of statistics on the 
widowed in the federal enumeration of 1900, the Census Bureau states that 
"among 1,000 negroes at least 15 years of age, 345 are single and 539 are 
married, while among 1,000 whites of the same age, 14 more are single and 
20 more are married, the total difference of 34 being almost balanced by the 


That these figures represent more truly the conjugal rela- 
tions of these women than published statistics is apparent 
from the histories of their marital experiences. The di- 
vorced, and in some cases the widowed, in published statis- 
tics are often in fact merely separations, since divorce is 
regarded by many of these people as an individual affair 
not requiring legal sanction. As we shall see below, "di- 
vorce" in one case consisted in giving the man a "scrip." 
On the whole, these simple folk have vague notions con- 
cerning the legal requirements for divorce. One man said 
that he did not need a divorce from his wife because "she 
was in one county and me in another." 9 Another man con- 
sidered himself divorced when his wife was sentenced to jail 
for cutting a woman. Many of the women who were heads 
of families have been married and in some cases often mar- 

fact that among the negroes 31 more in each 1,000 are widowed than among 
the whites. The relatively short life of the negro population would lead one 
to expect a rather large number in this class, but the difference between the 
two races seems to be too great to be accounted for in that way. One is dis- 
posed to believe that no small number of the 565,340 negro widows or widow- 
ers were persons whose conjugal relations had been ended by separation 
rather than by death and whose conjugal condition, therefore, has been in- 
accurately described" (Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United States 
[Bull. 8 (Washington, 1904)], p. 48). 

9 Nearly a half-century ago Bruce made the same observations concerning 
the breaking of family ties among the plantation Negroes: "The instance 
very frequently occurs of a negro who has deserted his wife in one county 
getting, by false statements, a license to marry in another county, and there 
establishing a new home with as much coolness as if he had been single when 
he obtained the second license; but so accustomed are the whites to the 
sexual freedom of their former slaves that when it comes to their ears that 
a certain negro who resides in their vicinity has two wives to whom he is 
legally bound, living, the rumor, however capable of substantial proof, is 
almost always winked at or not considered worthy of investigation" (Phillip 
A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman [New York, 1889] p. 22). 


ried. 10 They have often broken marital ties and remarried 
without a legal divorce. On a plantation in Alabama a wom- 
an near sixty, who worked a "one-horse farm" with her son, 
recounted the story of her three marriages. Her father, who 
had been "raised up under the hard task of slavery," had 
sent her as far as the fourth grade. Then her marriage 
career began. Of the first two husbands she said: 

Me and him separated and he divorced me. Me and the second 
one got married and come down here. Then he fought me when this 
boy [her son] was six months old. We fought like cats and dogs. One 

night I had to call Uncle R P . He asked me for his Vorce 

and I gi' it to him. I just wrote him a "scrip." I got a man to write it 
for him. 

Her third husband, who had been dead seven years, died, 
according to her testimony, of high blood pressure, leakage 
of the heart, and kidney trouble. Another old woman had 
a similar story to tell. When she announced "all my chil- 
dren done married off," she was speaking of two sets of 
children one by her husband and another by the man with 
whom she lived after having "divorced" her husband. Ac- 
cording to her story, her husband had told her that he 
wanted a divorce, and she had replied that he was welcome 
to it. But as to the reason back of the breaking of the mar- 
riage bond, she explained: "He didn't work to suit me, 
and I didn't work to suit him." 

This last naive statement concerning divorce reveals 
much in regard to the nature of marriage and its dissolu- 
tion among these simple folk. Among these people we come 
face to face with marriage as it probably existed in the early 
stages of social development. Marriage as an institution 
rooted in the mores does not exist in many places. Where it 

10 See Table 6, Appen. B, for frequency of marriages in 1910. 


has developed any degree of permanency and the couples 
are seemingly bound by conjugal affection, more funda- 
mental interests than mere sentiment have been responsible 
in the beginning for the continuance of the association in 
marriage. When one woman was asked whether she was 
married, her reply was: "Me and my husband parted so 
long, done forget I was married/' What marriage means to 
many of these women was expressed by a woman who spoke 
of herself as "Miss," although she had been married twice, 
and wanted another husband to help her work. Her first 
husband, whom she had married when she was fifteen, was 
killed by lightning after they had been together twelve 
years. A second husband had been dead two years, and at 
present she was making a living by " hoeing and fertilizing" 
on a place that, she said, "they tells me it was here in slavery 
times." Her only idea indicating preference in regard to a 
husband was that he must be dark, for "if he is most too 
light, he looks too much like white folks." But the main 
factor in regard to the partner in marriage was that he 
should co-operate with her in farming. As she remarked, 
"I am looking for someone to marry, so I can get on a farm 
and kinda rest." She had hoped that her son in Cleveland, 
who had served in France during the war, would relieve her 
from going into the field each day in the hot sun; but he 
had written that he was sick, and she had sent for him to 
come home. 

Where marriage is regarded chiefly as a means of co-opera- 
tion in the task of making a living and does not rest upon 
an institutional basis, it is not surprising to find some of 
these women speaking of "working with a man" as a suffi- 
cient explanation of their living together. This was the ex- 
planation offered by an illiterate buxom black woman of 


forty or more who had been farming "right round twenty- 
five acres" for two years with a man who was separated 
from his wife a quarter of a mile away because they "just 
couldn't get along and separated." She had had several 
children without being married, the only living one being 
cared for by her mother. But some of these cases of irregular 
unions are not the result of the naive behavior of simple 
folk. We have seen in the preceding chapter how in one 
case both the parents of the unmarried mother and the un- 
married mother herself attempted to represent the man in 
the house as a "boarder." 11 Wherever we find this conscious- 
ness of the violation of the dominant mores or a certain 
sophistication, the couples will attempt to represent their 
union as some socially approved relationship or as conven- 
tional marriage. This was the case with a brickmason, forty- 
seven, who had been educated at Tuskegee Institute. He 
was living with a woman, twenty-two, on a "patch" of five 
acres for which they were paying sixty dollars rental a year. 
The woman was a mulatto who thought that she had some 
Indian blood. Her mother was farming with eight children, 

11 Bishop Coppin related the following concerning marital relations after 
the Civil War and attempts on the part of the church to break up such ir- 
regular unions: "Then there were other kinds of irregular living by Church 
members when there was no one to prefer 'charges and complaints, 'and bring 
the transgressor to book. A man might be a member of the Church, and yet 
be 'stopping* with a woman to whom he was not married. Or, in the irregular 
union, the woman might be the Church member. These are cases where even 
Common law marriage was not claimed. Both parties going for single. The 
man just a 'star boarder.' But, in this general clean up at Friendship, under 
the new regime, such parties had to choose between getting married, or facing 
charges for immoral conduct. Dear old Friendship now became the Ecclesias- 
tical Court House, as well as the Church. For any of the above named lapses, 
hitherto unnoticed, a member was liable at any 'Quarterly Meeting' to be 
called to face charges and complaints" (L. J. Coppin, Unwritten History 
[Philadelphia, 1920], pp. 126-27). 


while her father had deserted the mother and gone to De- 
troit. This irregular union was especially convenient for the 
man, since it was outside the public opinion and censure of 
the group with whom he spent much of his time in town. 
Some of these irregular unions are due to the association 
between white men and colored women. The prevalence of 
these associations is determined by several factors. They 
are found more frequently in the small towns of the South 
than in the isolated rural regions where large numbers of 
Negroes have been concentrated for nearly a century or 
longer. The proportion of mulattoes in the Negro popula- 
tion is a measure of the isolation of the Negro and of the 
amount of contacts between the races. In Issaquena County 
in the Yazoo-Mississippi Basin only 10 per cent of the 
families were mulattoes in 1910, while in Hertford County, 
North Carolina, 40 per cent of the families showed mixed 
blood." In Hertford County, where in 1910, as we have 
seen, about 35 per cent of the women who were heads of 
families had had only irregular relations with men, the as- 
sociation between white men and colored women continued 
on a large scale for a long period after slavery. These irregu- 
lar unions were generally formed by white men and mulatto 
women. According to our figures, 28 of the 108 women heads 
of families who had carried on irregular relations were mulat- 
toes. In 1920 there were 19 mulattoes among the 47 women 
in this class. 13 The change in these figures is indicative of an 
actual decrease in these types of associations; for in this 
community there has been a conscious effort on the part of 
the colored population to repress such associations and en- 
force conventional standards of conduct. 14 

" See Table 7, Appen. B. x * See Table 5, Appen. B. 

f * Bishop Coppin (op. cit., pp. 130-31) recites the following typical case 
in which a white man forced the Negro community to accept his colored 


A minister, who established a school in this county and 
has worked there nearly a half -century, related the following 
concerning these associations when he began his work there: 

When I first came here I often heard mulatto women say that they 
would rather be a white man's concubine than a nigger's wife. The 
mulatto women and white men claimed that since the law did not 
allow them to marry and they had only one wife that it was all right. 

Conflict over this almost broke up P P Baptist Church. 

There was a scattering of families, many going north and passing for 
white. The feeling was such between mulattoes and blacks that they 
wanted me to place the mulattoes on the second floor and the blacks 
on the third floor of the school dormitory. I mixed them up in the 
school purposely and got black evangelists for the church. x * 

Although frequently the white man was not married and 
lived with his mulatto concubine as his wife, this was not 
invariably the case. It is also true that in many instances 
the economic advantages which these mulatto families en- 
joyed were due to the provision which the white father had 
made for his concubine and his mulatto children. 16 In the 
following document, which was furnished by a woman who 
was born before emancipation, we have the case of a white 
man with a white family as well as a colored family. In this 

concubine: "The father being a man of means and influence, defied public 
sentiment, and held family number one in servile submission. But his influ- 
ence did not stop there; he would have it understood that his mistress must 
not be Churched, but rather must be regarded as a leading spirit at the 
Church to which she belonged, and which he gave her means to liberally 
support. If he had power enough to enslave his own legitimate family, forcing 
even the wife into unwilling silence, and besides, to so maintain himself in 
society as to prevent a general protest, it is not to be wondered at, that the 
Colored Community, dependent, perilous, would also hold its peace." 

j s Manuscript document. 

16 See Doc. i, Appen. A, for the history of a family growing out of one 
of these associations between white men and colored women. 


case, the white father made no provision for his colored 

I wanted to be somebody and some account. I was ashamed of my 
back family [family background]. I hated that my mother did not 
marry a colored man and let me live like other folks with a father, 
and if he did not make much he could spend that with us. I despised 
my white father and his folks. I might have loved him if he had noticed 
and treated us like other folks. His wife died after a while, but she 
never fussed as I know of about his colored family. He had large chil- 
dren, some grown. He did not stay at home. He would have the work 
done by Negro slaves. He had lots of slaves and families of slaves. 
He must have had, with the children, fifty or seventy-five slaves in 
all. He was right good to them. He would eat at my mother's house. 
She called him "the man," and we called him "the man." He would 
come in at bed-time; and even before his wife died, he would come and 
stay with my mother all night and get up and go to his house the next 
morning. His children despised us and I despised them and all their 
folks, and I despised him. We had to work hard, get no education, 
and but a little to live on. He had plenty of property but didn't give 
mother one thing. Her uncle gave her home and field and we had to 
work it. 17 

The disgust which this woman felt toward her home life 
caused her to leave it and establish one based upon conven- 
tional moral standards. Referring to her home, she said, 
"It was so ugly and common that I meant to get married 
and leave that hateful place. It is true I loved the man I 
married; but I had as much in mind in getting married to 
leave that place as I had in marrying for love." 18 

While the association between white men and colored 
women in this community has been on a larger scale than in 
most southern communities, it is similar to many other 
areas in the South where there has been a long history of 
such associations dating from slavery. Just as the phenome- 

17 Manuscript document. l8 Manuscript document. 


non in this community has declined because of the growing 
sentiment against it on the part of both blacks and whites, 
it has decreased in other areas of the South. 

Let us turn our attention to these women in their role of 
mothers and as heads of their families. Some of the sepa- 
rated and widowed in Issaquena County in 1910 had given 
birth to as many as twenty children or more. Even among 
those who had had only irregular relations with men there 
were women with from ten to twelve children. But the 
actual number of children in these families was often small 
because of the numerous miscarriages and stillbirths and 
the high infant mortality which we find among them. 19 The 
following case of a woman who had two stillbirths and three 
miscarriages was not unusual, for some women had lost as 
many as nine or ten children. 20 

This woman had no conception of her age for she thought that 
she might be about 20, although later she said that her husband had 
been dead nearly 20 years. She was living in a one-room shack, covered 
with sheet iron, with a daughter's illegitimate 12 year old son, and her 
own illegitimate 14 year old daughter. These two children were help- 
ing her to hoe and plow a "one-horse farm on halves," instead of 
attending school. The family was receiving an "advance" of $4.00 a 
month. Another daughter, who "had taken sick with a misery in the 
head and breast," died suddenly during the past year. The mother 

** See Table 8, Appen. B. A study of Negoes on a plantation in Louisiana 
in the early part of the present century showed the following: "Of these 80 
women 58 have had children. These 58 have had 268 children, or an average 
of 4.62 per woman, of which 154, or 57.5 per cent, are still living. In 34 cases 
out of 58, or 59 per cent, the first child is living. All those who were ques- 
tioned on this subject, and who have lived with the Negroes all their lives 
stated that the birth rate is diminishing rapidly and that stillbirths and mis- 
carriages are becoming much more common" (J. Bradford Laws, The Negroes 
of Cinclaire Central Factory and Calumet Plantation [Louisiana Department 
of Labor Bull. 38 (January, 1902)], p. 103). 

20 Cf. cases in chap, viii below. 


tried to get a doctor; but as she said concerning her landlord, "Dis 
white man don't gi' you doctor like talking." Although it was diffi- 
cult to get a clear history of her pregnancies and children, it appeared 
that she had had three children while married and three illegitimate 
children after the death of her husband. Two of these latter children 
were stillborn and in addition she had three miscarriages. These still- 
births and miscarriages were evidently due to syphilitic infection since 
she showed a positive Wassermann reaction. 

This woman and her children had been on the present 
location for three years; and, although she had moved away 
from her former landlord because she "got tired of working 
for nothing/ 7 she "hadn't seen a nickel for a year." With 
her "advance" of four dollars a month, she and the children 
were living on "dry meat and corn bread," with an occa- 
sional dinner of greens from her garden on Sundays. Her 
situation was not unlike that of many other women who 
were heads of families. 

The struggle of these women to get a living for them- 
selves and the children who are dependent upon them is 
bound up with the plantation system in the South. Most 
of the mothers, as we have seen (Table 2), are tenants; 
and many of the relatively large group of unknown home 
tenure are either living with their parents who are tenants or 
are themselves mere farm laborers. They work from year to 
year "on halves" or are supposed to pay a stipulated amount 
of cotton and receive in return an "advance" in food, and, oc- 
casionally, clothes at the store. Mothers living with their 
parents and, mothers with grown sons to aid them are able 
to work larger farms than women depending solely on their 
own labor. Consequently, mothers with young children are 
generally only able to work a "patch," comprising four to 
six acres. The "advances" in food, which often consist of 
corn meal and fat bacon, are correspondingly small. They 


supplement this with vegetables from their gardens when 
the dry weather does not destroy them. As the result of 
this restricted diet, we find both mothers and children suffer- 
ing from pellagra. Statistics indicate that eight Negroes in 
Macon County died in 1930 of pellagra, but we know little 
concerning the numerous cases that did not result in 
death. 21 

One could scarcely find a more depressing picture of ab- 
ject poverty and human misery than that presented by a 
young black woman, who had had two illegitimate children 
by different fathers, living in a one-room shack on a planta- 
tion in Alabama not many miles from Tuskegee Institute. 
The father of one child was somewhere over the creek, while 
the father of the other was "in Montgomery or somewhere." 
One child had evidently died of undernourishment and neg- 
lect. The young mother sat on a broken stool in the middle 
of the room furnished only with an iron cot covered with 
filthy rags. From her dried-up breast a baby, half-strangled 
by whooping cough, was trying to draw nourishment. Bare- 
footed and clothed only in a cotton waist and dress pinned 
about her, she was rocking the child as her body swayed 
listlessly to an inarticulate singsong tune. On the cold em- 
bers in the fireplace lay a skillet containing the remnants 
of corn bread made only with water, because the landlord 
had refused fat meat as a part of her "advance." That same 
morning he had driven her with blows from her sick child 
to work in the field. 

Not all mothers with children depending upon them for 
support sink to the level of poverty and misery of the woman 

"See Elbridge Sibley, Dijferential Mortality in Tennessee (Nashville, 
Term., 1930), pp. 91-95, concerning high death-rates among Negroes from 
pellagra in the cotton areas of Tennessee. 


portrayed above. Although as tenants they receive no ac- 
counting from their landlords, many of them manage to 
get adequate clothing and food of sufficient variety to keep 
them in health. In the plantation area the relatively few 
owners are better off so far as the necessities of life are con- 
cerned. But ownership of land is not always an infallible 
sign of independence and comfort. The system of credit and 
the relations of the races in the former stronghold of slavery 
cause even landowning mothers to lead a precarious exist- 
ence. In regions like the North Carolina county outside of 
the area where agriculture is still dominated by the planta- 
tion system, homeownership signifies much more independ- 
ence and comfortable living. No single crop dominates the 
agricultural activities; and, consequently, even during times 
of economic stress there may be an abundance of food for 
consumption. Moreover, in situations like that in the North 
Carolina county, where colored women have lived with white 
men, the struggle for existence has been relieved by the pro- 
vision which the white fathers often made for their concu- 
bines and children. 

The maternal family is not held together solely by the 
co-operative activities incident to farming; it is also a 
natural organization for response. Although some women, 
after a brief marriage career, return to their mothers' 
households in order to work with them at farming, many 
others return to the family group for satisfactions of an 
emotional nature. There was, for instance, a thirty-eight- 
year-old woman who had left her husband after five years 
of marriage, because, as she said, she "got tired of staying 
with him" and preferred to "be with mamma and them." 
She was working on a "two-horse farm" with her brother, 
who took care of her until the settlement was made at the 


end of the year. That she usually received nothing at the 
end of the year was of no importance to her as long as she 
lived with her mother and brother and sister. The same 
valuation which she placed upon the intimate and sympa- 
thetic contacts afforded by the family group was expressed 
by a man, when he remarked: "I'm rich; when you have 
mother and father, you're rich." In fact, in the relatively 
isolated world of these black peasants, life is still largely 
organized on the basis of the personal and sympathetic rela- 
tions existing between the members of the various family 

As a rule, the mothers show a strong attachment for their 
children. This is evident even in the young mothers whose 
offspring could be mistaken for younger brothers or sisters 
and are frequently regarded as such. In fact, in this world 
where intimate and personal relations count for so much, 
the relation between mother and child is the most vital 
and is generally recognized as the most fundamental. The 
rumor that even a starving mother was giving up her chil- 
dren was received by some women as an unpardonable crime 
against the natural dictates of the human heart. The in- 
tense emotional interdependence between mother and child 
that one so often finds is encouraged by a long nursing peri- 
od. According to their own testimony, some women have 
nursed their children until they were three or four years 
old. Of course, these elemental expressions of love and solici- 
tude for their offspring are often detrimental to the welfare 
of the children. Many a woman who "jes lives and wuks 
to feed her chillen" will give her child meat and bread when 
it is a few days old. This is done, they say, "to strengthen 
their stomachs/ ' When one mother pointed to her overfed 
nineteen-year-old daughter as proof of the efficacy of such 


treatment, she never thought of the possible relation of such 
treatment to the death of ten of her children during infancy. 

The dependence of the child upon the mother, who is the 
supreme authority in the household, often creates a soli- 
darity of feeling and sentiment that makes daughters re- 
luctant to leave home with their husbands and brings sons 
back from their wanderings. During the World War Negro 
soliders who had been drafted in these rural areas and sent 
to camps often complained in the manner of children of 
being torn from their mothers. The mothers on their part 
show equally strong attachment for their grown sons and 
daughters. The reason which mothers frequently give for 
not permitting their daughters to marry the fathers of their 
illegitimate children is that they were unwilling to part with 
their daughters. No matter how long a wandering son or 
daughter has been away from home, mothers rejoice in their 
return; and, if they hear that their children are sick, they 
will make great sacrifices to bring them back in order that 
they may have the ministrations that only a mother can 
give, or that they may die in the arms of the one who bore 

As a rule, where we find mothers who do not want their 
children or neglect them, the sympathetic basis of family 
relations has been destroyed through the mobility of the 
population, or life and labor have made children a burden 
and a hardship. The isolation of these simple communities 
is being broken down, and "overproduction" in agriculture 
is sending women and girls to seek a living in town. The old 
relationships and traditional values are being destroyed, and 
new wishes, generally indicating an individualization of life- 
pattern, are becoming dominant. Sometimes children are 
left at home to be cared for by grandmothers. In spite of 


these changes, a large proportion of each generation of Negro 
mothers in these rural areas continue to bear patiently the 
burden of motherhood and assume responsibility for the sup- 
port of their children. Their daughters still follow in their 
footsteps and bring their offspring to the maternal house- 
hold. Then these mothers are elevated to the dignity of 
grandmothers, a position which gives them a peculiar au- 
thority in family relations and places upon them the re- 
sponsibility for keeping kindred together. 



During the Civil War an old slave and his wife attempted 
to escape from a plantation near Savannah but were caught 
and returned to their master. While the old man was re- 
ceiving five hundred lashes as punishment, his wife collected 
"her children and grandchildren, to the number of twenty- 
two, in a neighboring marsh, preparatory to another attempt 
that night. They found a flatboat which had been rejected 
as unseaworthy, got on board still under the old woman's 
orders and drifted forty miles down the river" to the lines 
of the Union army. An officer who was on board the gun- 
boat that picked them up said that "when the 'flat' touched 
the side of the vessel, the grandmother rose to her full height 
with her youngest grandchild in her arms, and said only, 
'My God! are we free?' " x 

The energy, courage, and devotion of this woman, who 
was nearly seventy, are characteristic of the role which the 
grandmother has played in the Negro family. During slav- 
ery the Negro grandmother occupied in many instances an 
important place in the plantation economy and was highly 
esteemed by both the slaves and the masters. In the mas- 
ter's house she was very often the "mammy" whom history 
and tradition have idealized because of her loyalty and 
affection. Because of her intimate relations with the whites, 
"all family secrets," as Calhoun observes, "were in her keep- 

1 Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment (New 
York, 1900), pp. 332-33. 



ing; she was the defender of the family honor. The tie of 
affection between her and her charges was never outgrown. 
Often she was the confidential adviser of the older members 
of the household. To young mothers she was an authority 
on first babies. " 2 Age added dignity to her position, and 
"her regime/' as Thomas Nelson Page says, "extended fre- 
quently through two generations, occasionally through 
three/' 3 Writing of her grandmother, a former slave re- 
marks: "She became an indispensable person in the house- 
hold, officiating in all capacities, from cook and wet-nurse 
to seamstress." 4 From Frederick Douglass, who was reared 
by his grandmother and grandfather, we have the following 
testimony : 

I infer that my grandmother, especially, was held in high esteem, 
far higher than was the lot of most colored persons in that region. 
She was a good nurse, and a capital hand at making nets used for 
catching shad and herring, and was, withal, somewhat famous as a 
fisherwoman. I have known her to be in the water waist deep, for 
hours, seine-hauling. She was a gardner as well as a fisherwoman, and 
remarkable for her success in keeping her seedling sweet potatoes 
through the months of winter, and easily got the reputation of being 
born to "good luck." In planting time Grandmother Betsy was sent 
for in all directions, simply to place the seedling potatoes in the hills 
or drills; for superstition had it that her touch was needed to make 
them grow. This reputation was full of advantage to her and her 
grandchildren, for a good crop, after her planting for the neighbors, 
brought her a share of the harvest. 5 

The grandmother's prestige and importance were as great 
among the slaves on the plantation as among the whites in 

3 Arthur W. Calhoun, A Social History of the American Family (Cleve- 
land, 1917-18), II, 284. 
3 Quoted in ibid., p. 284. 

* L. Maria Child, The Freedmen's Book (Boston, 1865), pp. 206-7. 
s Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Chicago, 1882), p. 14. 


the master's house. She was the repository of the accumu- 
lated lore and superstition of the slaves and was on hand 
at the birth of black children as well as of white. She took 
under her care the orphaned and abandoned children. A 
former slave recalled that the usual scanty fare of slaves 
caused her no trouble; for, she wrote, "on my various errands 
I passed my grandmother's house and she always had some- 
thing to spare for me. I was frequently threatened with 
punishment if I stopped there; and my grandmother, to 
avoid detaining me, often stood at the gate with something 
for my breakfast or dinner. I was indebted to her for all 
my comforts, spiritual or temporal." 6 This same grand- 
mother, because of her dignity and the esteem in which she 
was held by the community, was bought and emancipated 
by a kindly old woman. This was done when, at the death 
of her mistress, she forestalled an attempt to sell her pri- 
vately to a trader by insisting upon mounting the public 
auction block with the other slaves. Later she gathered 
under her care two generations of her descendants. 

When emancipation came, it was often the old grand- 
mother who kept the generations together. One who worked 
with the newly emancipated slaves during and after the 
Civil War has left us a picture of one of these old women 
presiding over four generations of descendants. Miss 
Botume writes concerning Tamar, a robust, merry-looking, 
middle-aged woman : 

Her mother and grandmother lived in the room with her. She also 
had three children, one of whom was married and lived there with his 
wife and baby, which baby the oldest woman was "minding. " It was 
something to see five generations together, all apparently in good con- 
dition. At my request, Ned, the young father, took the baby, and 

6 Child, op. cit., p. 207. 


all stood in a row. In the old vernacular they would have been called 
"a prime lot of niggers." I never saw a more fearless and self-contained 
set. They were all very black, and had been considered valuable, and 
they knew their own importance. 7 

The sentiments and feelings that lay beneath the quiet 
dignity and force of these old women are only dimly re- 
flected in recorded observations of those who knew them in 
the past. But occasionally we run across a former slave on 
one of the plantations of the South who forms a link be- 
tween the past and the present. A grandmother who was a 
former slave living on a small plot of land that was once a 
part of a large plantation in Alabama told the following 

I was 77 years old this last gone February. I satisfied I'm oldern 
that, but that's what the white folks gied me when I was freed, but 
if I don't disremember, that's my sister's age. When war was declared 
and freedom come, I was nursing and working at the white folks 
house. They jest got us niggers all mixed up. I remembers well when 
the people was drilling ter free the slaves. That's why I knows I'm 
oldern that. I ain't got naire child but one son up in Ohio and he 
ain't a bit a use ter me. Hits hurtin' too ter raise chillen grown and 
they don't care 'bout you. I been married twice. I had one child by 
my first husband. That's my son in Ohio I was tellin' you 'bout. I 
had three chillen by my second husband and all dead 'cept one, that's 
him. My husband been dead now going on three years. I got one 
grandchild but hit ain't wid me. The two little orphan chillen I 
raised, they here wid me. I got four acres of land, me and the chillen. 
I let them work out fer people so they will come and plow fer us. This 
my own little house and four acres he left me on. My husband said 
he wanted his own house. I pays $3.10 fer taxes ever year. Last year, 
I didn't make naire bale of cotton. Hit wont a half bale. See I hafta 
'vide my little land up wid cotton, corn and 'taters. I jest make 'nough 
ter barely pay my taxes. These little orphan chillen mother dead and 

7 Elizabeth Hyde Botume, First Days among the Contrabands (Boston 
1893), P- 56. 


father dead too. I'm they great aunt. Me being the oldest one and 
me being they mother's auntie and the oldest head, that's how I come 
by them. So me and my husband raised them chillen from leetle bit 
a things. Sometimes I don't git food, go widout eating all day so's 
ter leave hit fer them ter eat 'cause they hafta work. I been had them 
in school, though I has a tough time I send them. 8 

In her explanation of why the responsibility for the care 
of "her chillen " falls upon her, this old woman expresses 
the characteristic attitude of the grandmother in her role 
as "oldest head" in the family. Where the maternal family 
organization assumes such importance as among a large sec- 
tion of the Negro population, the oldest woman is regarded 
as the head of the family. Some of these grandmothers will 
tell you of their courting, which sounds very much like that 
of their granddaughters ' today. Often, instead of having 
been a prelude to marriage, it culminated in motherhood and 
the responsibilities which it imposed. Even when they mar- 
ried, sometimes marriage was of short duration, and the re- 
sponsibility of rearing and supporting their children fell 
upon them. Thus it has been the grandmother who has held 
the generations together when fathers and even mothers 
abandoned their offspring. 

Although one old grandmother, whose mother, a cen- 
tenarian, had just died, announced, "all my chillen done 
married off," two grandchildren and two daughters who 
worked part of the time in Montgomery were looking to her 
for support. With the aid of her son who lived over the hill 
she was working a plot of land, "not quite a one-horse farm," 
that was once a part of a large plantation. This old woman 
boasted that she had been on the place forty years and on the 
spot thirty years. She was the mother of fifteen children, 

8 Manuscript document. 


six of whom were living. In recounting her numerous mis- 
carriages and dead children, she said: "Some come live but 
didn't live no time, yet three got to be big chillun walkin' 
'bout befo' dey dies. One boy got to be eighteen years old. 
He had dat fever and from dat, spasms and spells, and from 
spells he fell in de fire and got burnt and never did git over 
hit. De other two just died with de fever." Of her six sur- 
viving children, two were by her husband from whom she 
separated when she found him unsuitable to work with and 
four by a man to whom she had never been married. One 
son, who was living in Montgomery when he was drafted 
for the war, had not been heard from for years. This son 
had given his illegitimate child to his mother when it was 
three years old. She was also taking care of her daughter's 
child. This daughter, who had been deserted by her hus- 
band, was working in domestic service in Montgomery with 
her sister. Both sisters returned to their mother and looked 
for support from the land when they could no longer make 
a living in the city. The old grandmother, who had been ill 
for years, had denied herself medicine and even the consola- 
tion that when she "lay down and die" there would be 
"something to bury" her, in order that her grandchildren 
might have clothes and tuition for school. As she labored 
on her little plot of land, she could always renew her courage 
and faith by glancing at a near-by dead tree that marked 
her praying-ground. It was, as she said, "by dat dead tree 
where de Lord convert my soul at nine o'clock on a Thurs- 
day. I was over dere praying; over by dat tree was my 
praying-ground. I know when de Lord poured his Holy 

Ghost around my soul He told me to go in all parts 

of de world and tell what he have done for my soul." 
On another "one-horse farm," for which she was paying 


four hundred pounds of lint cotton, a great-grandmother, 
who was two years and six months old when "Freedom 
Glared, " was living with her daughter's two grandchildren, 
one two years old and the other three and a half. Her 
daughter, who had gone to town to work as a cook and a 
laundress for a white family, sent something occasionally 
for her grandchildren. The old great-grandmother remarked 
concerning her granddaughter, the mother of the two chil- 
dren, "she ain't had ne'er a husband; dese chillen was her 
Adopted chillen." The latter part of this statement turned 
out to mean that they, like their mother, were illegitimate. 
The old woman had given birth to eleven children, nine of 
whom were dead. Of the nine children, one was born dead; 
the oldest died from a fall in Montgomery; her youngest 
died of worms; while the others died when they were "little 
bits of things." Her surviving son, she said, had always been 
thickheaded, and, although he reached the second grade in 
school, he had never learned anything. With "a piece of a 
plow" she was making a living for herself and her great- 
grandchildren, the youngest of whom had a piece of copper 
hung about his neck to help "his teething." She had to de- 
pend upon her own efforts as she had been "kinda sepa- 
rated" from her second husband for two or three years. Her 
only consolation was that nearly a half-century ago she was 
converted. "I never felt," she said, "such a feeling in my 
life. Wouldn't go back to a life of sin for anything. Give 
me Jesus, if I didn't have a rag, or crumb. God got my 
soul." As she talked, she began to cry and added despair- 
ingly, "I'se had a hard time. Sometimes I feel like I wish 
I'd never been born. Jest like I travel the path of this 
world, may the Lord spare me to have something to eat 
this fall." 


The Negro grandmother's importance is due to the fact 
not only that she has been the "oldest head" in a maternal 
family organization but also to her position as "granny" 
or midwife among a simple peasant folk. As the repository 
of folk wisdom concerning the inscrutable ways of nature, 
the grandmother has been depended upon by mothers to 
ease the pains of childbirth and ward off the dangers of ill 
luck. 9 Children acknowledge their indebtedness to her for 
assuring them, during the crisis of birth, a safe entrance into 
the world. Even grown men and women refer to her as a 
second mother and sometimes show the same deference and 
respect for her that they accord their own mothers. In 
spite of the advent of the doctor, who represents the in- 
vasion of science and the rational order of civilization in the 
South, the "granny" is still the dependable figure who pre- 
sides at the crisis of childbirth. In 1930 in rural Tennessee, 
41.5 per cent of Negro live births were attended by mid- 
wives; whereas during the same year in North Carolina 
midwives attended a little over two-thirds of all Negro 
births. 10 In some places we can see the transition from the 
"granny" to the doctor. As one woman remarked: "I had 
a midwife but got a doctor to get the afterbirth." Although 
custom and tradition are largely responsible for the con- 
tinued use of the midwife, the expense of securing a doctor 

9 See Newbell N. Puckett, Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (Chapel Hill, 
N.C., 1926), pp. 332-35. Statistics from Alabama, Maryland, and Virginia 
showed for 1927-28 "a considerably lower maternal mortality rate among 
the Negro women attended by midwives than among those attended by 
physicians" (White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, Ob- 
stetric Education [New York, 1932], p. 198). 

10 See the 1930 reports of vital statistics for these states. 


is prohibitive for the majority of these economically de- 
pendent folk. 11 

We have the following picture from the Sea Islands of one 
of these grandmothers who, after becoming too old to act 
as midwife, has resumed her traditional role as guardian of 
the younger generation : 

She is seventy-four and no longer able to pursue her profession as 
midwife, or to engage in active work in the field. From time to time 
she shoulders her heavy hoe and ties up her hips with heavy cord to 
"gib stren'th" and does what she can. Through the migration of her 
daughter to Savannah, she had acquired four grandchildren to care 
for. The children are able to do some light work in the gathering of 
compost and cultivation of the crops, but there is no one to do the 
heavy plowing or hoeing. The land is unfenced so that the animals 
have to be staked out to forage and constantly watched. All of the 
children are visibly undernourished and it was quite an experiment at 
the headquarters of the study to try to fill them up with food and to 
see how much would be required. Incredible quantities were eaten. 
When she was asked in the early spring what she had on hand in way 
of food she said, "Few peas and some cracked corn." 12 

" The present situation regarding the Negro midwife was summarized 
as follows in the report to the White House Conference on Child Health 
and Protection: "In the southern states, nurses, and occasionally doctors, 
have conducted courses for midwives in which theoretical instruction has 
been given; the oldest, most ignorant and unfit of the Negro midwives have 
been eliminated from practice, and the requirements for a permit or license 
raised. Work of inspection or supervision has been begun or extended. In 
some instances, younger and better educated women have been urged to 
attend the classes so that they might replace some of the older and less 
qualified ones. The courses of instruction have consisted of only a few lessons 
in some instances and in others have been more extensive. 

"In Georgia and South Carolina practically every midwife has had the 
advantage of a short course of lessons. In some places, however, a midwife 
program has been conducted in only a few counties. In South Carolina dur- 
ing two successive summers, one-month courses of combined practical and 
theoretical training were conducted at a hospital connected with a Negro 
school" (op. cit., pp. 193-94). 

" T. J. Woofter, Jr., Black Yeomanry (New York, 1930), p. 91. 


So far we have seen the grandmother in her role as the 
head of the maternal family among a primitive peasant 
people. She has often played a similar important role in 
families, maternal in organization, which have originated 
through the relations of white men and colored women. In 
the following excerpt from the family history of a young 
woman in a secretarial position in Chicago, we see how one 
grandmother is placed at the head of the family line while 
the other has played the usual role of looking after her 
daughter's mulatto child: 

My maternal grandmother was a house-servant in a family in the 
northern part of Alabama at the time of the Civil War. This family 
owned a large plantation. My grandmother told me that she was a 
favorite in the house and had her way pretty much. During the third 
year of the Civil War my mother was born. Her father was the master 
of the house. My mother has always been very sensitive about her 
birth and has never wanted to talk about it before her children. When 
very small my mother was separated from her mother as the latter 
went to Tennessee because of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. My 
mother was reared by her grandmother during the absence of her 
mother. When my grandmother returned from Tennessee she married 
a minister and had three sons by this marriage. My mother spent her 
childhood with the family on a farm in Madison County, Alabama. 
She helped to care for her three half brothers. 1 * 

A mulatto dentist in a northern city, who remarked con- 
cerning his grandmother, "My grandmother always told 
me something that always impressed me that no one in the 
family was ever convicted of a crime," was only able to 
trace his family back to the Revolutionary War period be- 
cause of this grandmother's recollections of her own grand- 
mother. Continuity in this family had been maintained 
through the female line, since the male progenitors had been 

'3 Manuscript document. 


white for the first two generations and died at an early age 
during the next two generations. The first grandmother, ac- 
cording to the traditions which have come down through four 
generations, was a free woman of color, with a considerable 
mixture of Scotch blood, and lived in Baltimore. She was "sev- 
en years old when the Revolutionary War started and four- 
teen years old when it ended/' so runs the tradition. While a 
bonded servant for seven years, she was kidnapped, sold 
as a slave, and taken to Georgia. She became the mother of 
a child by one of the young men in her master's family 
just before he left home to study at Oxford. The mulatto 
child was reared in the house and, when grown, was placed 
in charge of the domestic affairs of the household. Follow- 
ing the example of her mother, she had a child, who was 
born in 1832, by a white man. This child, who was the 
grandmother of the dentist, remained a dominant figure in 
the family until her death at ninety-six years of age. Al- 
though she was married twice during slavery, the deaths of 
her husbands placed upon her the responsibility of rearing 
the children. Through her efforts her children were sent to 
the schools that were established for the freedmen shortly 
after the Civil War and were thus started on the way to 
culture and achievement. Similarly we find a prominent 
physician's mulatto wife, whose mother objected to her being 
reared as white by her white father, briefly tracing her family 
through a number of female ancestors who had children by 
white men. "My great-grandmother was the offspring of a 
white man and an Indian squaw. She had a child, who was 
my grandmother, by a Negro. My grandmother had two 
sets of children: one by a white man, and another by a 
Negro. My mother was one of the children by a white 
father." The old great-grandmother was the real head of 


the family. She gathered up her descendants in Kentucky 
and took them to the West, where, after keeping a boarding- 
house for miners, she acquired money herself through in- 
vestments in the mines. Later she bought homes for her 
children and grandchildren and sent several of them to 

Some of the younger generation of mixed blood give the 
same testimony concerning their grandmothers' dominating 
influence in family relations. A mulatto college student, 
whose grandmother lived apart from her husband after at- 
tempting unsuccessfully to "subordinate him," thought that 

she typified the spirit of the C women "who have 

always demanded and asserted their rights, whatever may 
be the costs." The mother of this girl had left her husband 
in the South because he was apologetic when a white man 
struck her. This student wrote concerning her maternal 
grandmother : 

My favorite ancestor was my Grandma Ann. I can probably attrib- 
ute this attachment to the fact that my sisters who knew her have 
remarked how like her I was in feature, and even tastes. I remember 
when as a child I would ask my mother some of the things her mother 
used to do when she was a little girl, and then try to do some of them 
myself, in an effort to be as much like her as possible. I have a very 
definite mental image of what I imagine she must have been like, 
but I can best describe her by quoting directly from my sister. "Grand- 
ma Ann well now there was a character. Her mother must have been 
a clever woman to have named her so aptly. She, too, was trained as 
a special maid to her mistress. She sewed and did beautiful em- 
broidery work. Grandma did not care about and could not do house- 
work not cooking at all. In fact, she seemed to have inherited all the 
characteristics of a 'Southern lady' even to petite hands and feet. 
She was a staunch Presbyterian the entire family being permitted 
to attend the white church, which fact attests their high standing 
among the whites in the community, and consequently they were 


'looked up to* by the Negroes. Grandma maintained her independence 
until the time of her death, near the age of eighty-three." I especially 
remember her as being extremely thrifty. I judge that she handled 
the finances mostly in her family, because my mother has often evoked 
many a good laugh from me by relating instances where her father 
would have to ask her for money and she would dole it out in little 
bits. 1 * 

The Negro grandmother has not ceased to watch over the 
destiny of the Negro families as they have moved in ever 
increasing numbers to the cities during the present century. 
For example, she was present in 6 1 of the families of 342 
junior high school students in Nashville. 15 In 25 of these a 
grandfather was also present. But in 24 of the remaining 
36 families, we find her in 8 families with only the mother of 
the children; in 7 with only the father; and in 9 she was the 
only adult member. However, figures cannot give us any 
conception of the grandmother, unawed and still with her 
ancient dignity, watching over her children in the strange 
world of the city. We shall, therefore, let one who has met 
her daily and portrayed her in all her dignity give a final 

Great-grandmother hobbles in on crutches, her garments pinned 
across her chest with a safety pin, and her cap tied on with a black 
ribbon. But it takes more than crutches and discarded ribbons to 
abash a colored grandmother. In fact, they are the only grandmothers 
whom I have ever known to come into their own. They are still per- 
sons. They never quail before a stylish granddaughter by so much as 
the fraction of an inch. If they look like scarecrows, it embarrasses 
neither the one nor the other. Let the girl be saucy, and one look from 

l * Manuscript document. 

15 Schedules collected for the Subcommittee on the Function of Home 
Activities in the Education of the Child, White House Conference on Child 
Health and Protection, Section III-A, Subcommittee chairman, E. W. Bur- 
gess; research assistant, Ruth Shonle Cavan. 


her grandmother's dark heavy-lidded eyes hits its mark. Accustomed 
as I am to the spectacle of white grandmothers idealized according to 
Whistler, but relegated in spite of themselves to shawls and chimney 
corners, these doughty old colored women, physically infirm but 
spiritually undaunted, who have somehow managed to keep a hold 
on their progeny, are impressive creatures. I even find it refreshingly 
rakish, that so many of our fights start over the debated reputation 
of an old creature muffled in a ragbag. Her girlish escapades still have 
the power to set her offspring fighting, and one feels that neither 
she nor they think Jess of each other for the scrimmage. No other race 
comes to court whose battles are waged so often in vindication of such 
ancient dames. And personally I never fail to derive a piquant savor 
from jousts of chivalry over the long dead flirtations of such bags of 
bones. Of all people these old women represent the eternal feminine. 
They have drunk of the fount of youth and have never lost its flavor. 
Nothing, one feels, but their rheumatism keeps them from joining in 
the dance of life with their great-grandchildren. Often a white woman 
loses her head in court and acts uncommonly silly. A colored woman 
never. She accepts what must be accepted, tosses or nods her head 
according to how the outcome suits her (they are not hard to please) , 
and marches or hobbles out of the room as she came in, with her 
dignity unimpaired. 16 

Thus the Negro grandmother stands today, as of old, as 
the "oldest head" in the House of the Mother. How her 
authority has been overthrown at times and her regime sup- 
planted by that of the Father of the House will be the sub- 
ject of the following section. 

16 Eleanor Rowland Wembridge, Life among the Lowbrows (Boston and 
New York, 1931), pp. 169-70. 



A worker among the freedmen during the Civil War ob- 
served that many men were exceedingly jealous of their 
newly acquired authority in family relations and insisted 
upon a recognition of their superiority over women. It 
was not unnatural that men, whose authority over their 
wives and their children had been subject at all times to 
their master's will and limited by the woman's more funda- 
mental claim upon her children, should have exhibited con- 
siderable self -consciousness in their new role. But it re- 
quired something more concrete than the mere formal recog- 
nition of the man's superior position to give substance to 
his authority in the family and to create in him a perma- 
nent interest in marriage. 

A former slave, who began life as a freedman on a "one- 
horse farm" with his wife working as a laundress, but later 
rented land and hired two men, recalls the pride which he 
felt because of his new status: "In my humble palace on a 
hill in the woods beneath the shade of towering pines and 
sturdy oaks, I felt as a king whose supreme commands were 
'law and gospel' to my subjects." 1 Whether or not these 
reflections after a lapse of thirty years were a true repre- 
sentation of the feelings of a Negro husband suddenly pos- 
sessed of undisputed authority in his household, they, 
nevertheless, describe the condition under which male 
ascendancy very often became established in the family. 

1 L. H. Holsey, Autobiography, Sermons, and Addresses (Atlanta, 1898), 
pp. lo-u. 



In this family, as in other families in which we have been 
able to trace the process by which the Negro man acquired 
a permanent interest in his family and assumed a position 
of authority, it appears that the subordination of the woman 
in the economic organization of the family has played an 
important part. Very often, of course, it is impossible to 
follow the course of this development from the beginning; 
for, when we first meet some of these families as they emerge 
from slavery, the man's interest in his family has already 
taken root, and masculine ascendancy is a part of the family 
pattern. Since our immediate concern is with the vast ma- 
jority of the Negro families that secured their freedom as 
the result of the Civil War and emancipation, we shall not 
include in our present discussion families of Negroes and 
mulattoes who were free before the Civil War. A separate 
chapter will be devoted to these free Negroes, for it was 
among them that the Negro family first acquired an insti- 
tutional character. Likewise, we shall leave for separate 
consideration the development of family life in the more or 
less isolated communities comprising persons of Negro, In- 
dian, and white ancestry, located in various sections of the 

The transition from slavery to freedom required a change 
in the physical organization of the plantation that had been 
adapted to gang labor under the direction of an overseer. 
Slave row was broken up, and tenant houses were scattered 
over the plantation in order that each family might carry 
on an independent existence. Where attempts were made 
to organize the Negroes in squads under an overseer, whom 
the emancipated Negroes often called "supertender," they 
proved unsatisfactory because each man felt, as one planta- 
tion owner wrote, "the very natural desire to be his own 


'boss/ and to farm to himself." 3 A superintendent of a 
plantation in Florida wrote to the owner concerning this 

The tendency on the part of hands appears to be to break up in 
very small squads, as for instance a man with his wife and children; 
and even if he has no children, to attempt to make a crop with the 
help of his wife. This might be tried if the negro owned the mule. 
There is general dissatisfaction expressed by hands with the head 
men of squads. The latter, it is claimed, are too dictatorial, and do not 
perform their share of the labor a great deal of truth in the latter 
complaint * 

The new economic arrangement placed the Negro man 
in a position of authority in relation to his family. 4 A 
northern-born planter who went to Mississippi immediately 
after the Civil War found that only the " dissipated and un- 
reliable" among the freedmen were willing to contract to 
work for him without their families for more than a brief 
period. As a rule, the men who signed contracts for a three- 
year period insisted that their families be included in the 
arrangements to work in the fields. 5 But, in contracting for 
the labor of the family, the father assumed responsibility 
for the behavior of his family and whatever went to the 

3 David C. Barrow, "A Georgia Plantation," Scribner's Monthly, XXI 
(April, 1881), 831. 

* Florida Plantation Records, p. 193. 

* In some cases, of course, the woman refused to become subject to the 
authority of her husband. One former slave said that his mother took his 
brothers and sisters and went to live in Nashville in defiance of his father's 
decision to remain on his former master's place (manuscript document). 

* A. T. Morgan, Yazoo; or, on the Picket Line of Freedom in the South 
(Washington, D.C., 1884), pp. 39-41. When a freedman was asked, "Why 
will you freedmen all insist that your wives shall work in the field?" he re- 
plied, "Bees you a Yankee? I know you is, do, kase I dun seed it. Laws! 
Kunnel; I spec yo' is a Kunnel. We coPud folks is too po' " (ibid., p. 41). 




< X 


credit of the family was in his name. 6 The following entry 
in a Florida plantation record indicates the new position of 
the men in the family and their struggle to support their 
wives and children : 

Ancil's a/c shows $30 odd to his credit. He is very anxious to farm 
next year. He sayd his family is large and he can't support it at 50 
cts. a day. He wants you to sell him Sam Mule, the one Winter worked 
this year. He says he would like (as a matter of course he would) to 
get Sam on a credit for $100. that he wishes to draw his wages at 
end of year. Edward Norris (John Henry's brother) would work with 
him. Ancil and Edward would plant corn in field near old burnt mill 
and would fence in 1 2 acres of tobacco house field if they got a show- 
ing Charles wishes to pull off to himself. Barrach to work with 

his own family. Old Jimmy would go with Dick. Guy wants to go to 
himself. Isaac I think will leave Madison will make an effort to 
rent land. 7 

The pioneer efforts of the freedman after emancipation 
reflected, as we have seen in a previous chapter, his char- 
acter and training under the institution of slavery. 8 The 

6 In some cases it appears that the wife was also a party to the contract. 
For example, a chattel mortgage reads as follows (Florida Plantation Records, 
pp. 582-83): 


WHEREAS George Noble Jones, has advanced to us, John Pride and Caroline his wife Forty 
dollars to enable us to pay for the purchase of said mule named John Bull, and whereas said 
George Noble Jones has advanced to the undersigned one hundred and seventy six dollars 
22/100 on account of supplies, to enable us to feed and clothe ourselves and family we hereby 
convey to said George Noble Jones the aforesaid mule, this conveyance to be void whenever 
we shall pay to George Noble Jones or his representatives the aforesaid sum of one hundred and 
seventy six dollars 22/100 for said advances and the aforesaid sum of forty dollars on account 
of purchase of said mule. Witness our signature this eighteenth day of February, 1874. 




* Ibid., pp. 191-92. 8 Chap. ii. 


man who showed enough character to revolt against those 
in authority under slavery was often the very man who was 
most capable of self -direction as a freedman. Concerning a 
freedman of this type, his employer wrote: 

The one man on this plantation who, as a slave, gave most trouble, 
so much, in fact, that he was almost beyond control of the overseer, 
was Lena Bryant. Since he has been freed, he has grown honest, quiet, 
and industrious; he educated his children and pays his debts. Mr. 
Barrow asked him, one day, what had changed him so. "Ah, master!" 
he replied, "I'm free now; I have to do right." 9 

Among the favored classes in the slave population the 
assimilation of the sentiments and ideas of the whites had 
gone far by the time emancipation came. In the histories 
of the families which had their origin among these favored 
slaves we are able to see the influence of their favored posi- 
tion upon their development after emancipation. In a re- 
cently published autobiography of a bishop, we can trace 
this development, which is typical of the elements in the 
Negro population, that have built up a stable family life 
since emancipation. The first significant fact recorded con- 
cerning the moralization of the life of the founder of this 
family is that he became a member of the church. Concern- 
ing this step, his son writes: 

In early life, in 1828, when he was fourteen years old he was con- 
verted to God: joined the M.E. Church, South; and immediately 
began to use his influence to induce others to follow in his wake, a 
Christian service which he dearly loved to the day of his death. 10 

This act evidently had a permanent effect upon the develop- 
ment of his personality, for twenty-eight years later he was 

Barrow, op. cit., p. 836. 

10 Charles Henry Phillips, From the Farm to the Bishopric: An Autobiog- 
raphy (Nashville, Term., 1932), pp. 8-9. 


licensed to preach and became a leader in the religious life 
of the slaves. 11 He was typical of the more ambitious slaves, 
for we learn that "he was a blacksmith and for about twenty 
years prior to Emancipation he hired his time from his 
owner and was permitted to travel from plantation to plan- 
tation/' 12 Other factors were undoubtedly influential in 
forming his character and stabilizing his family relations: 

He was never sold himself nor was any of his children. His owner 
held him in such high esteem because of the kind of man that he was, 
that he never struck him himself nor allowed any one else to strike 
him. When talking about slavery it was always his proud boast to 
acclaim that no man ever struck him nor did he ever have an occasion 
to strike any man. 1 * 

The very fact that this slave father engaged in semifree 
economic activities for the maintenance of his wife and chil- 
dren indicates that he had already acquired a strong interest 
in his family before emancipation. The author of the family 
history cites an incident concerning the father's devotion 
to his wife and children which later became a part of the 
family traditions: 

Perhaps no man had a stronger love for his family and his home 
than my father. In the maintenance of his family he was often away 
from home during the week working at his trade but always planned 
to return on Friday nights or during the day on Saturday. On one 
occasion, when, working in the Eastern part of Baldwin County he 
came to the river at the week end to go home, he found the ferryman 
gone and all the boats on the opposite side. There was no bridge 
across the river. So he saw that the alternatives confronted him: To 
turn back, or swim the stream. Being a splendid swimmer and know- 
ing that he was expected at home, he plunged boldly into the stream 
and was soon with those whom he loved. 1 * 

" Ibid ., p. 9. ** Ibid., pp. 7-8. 

Ibid., p. 7. Ibid., p. 8. 


When families of this type emerged from slavery, they 
usually resisted the disintegrating effects of emancipation 
better than families which had not enjoyed such social and 
economic advantages. 15 As in the case of this family, they 
had developed a feeling of solidarity and some community 
of interest under the authority and discipline of the father. 
After emancipation they generally rented a small farm which 
they worked co-operatively in order to maintain themselves. 
The purchase of the farm was generally a significant step 
in the development of the family since it meant the con- 
solidation of the interests of the family and that the father 
had a permanent interest in his family. To quote again 
from the history of the Phillips family, which followed this 
typical course: 

For several years after emancipation he rented farms paying money 
rentals sometimes, and at other times such portions of the farm prod- 
ucts as were agreed upon by him and the land owner. Three such 
farms were rented. The first, situated some three miles from Milledge- 
ville, was rather small for his family, for, his children both boys and 
girls who were large enough, worked on the farm. I recall that he 
made four bales of cotton and garnered a large quantity of corn, 

sweet potatoes, fodder, peas, watermelons and other products 

The rental of these three farms with the economic and frugal manage- 
ment of affairs, together with the experience obtained, impressed my 
father that the time was ripe to begin efforts to purchase for his 
family and himself a home and farm of their own. So, in consonance 
with these convictions and praiseworthy ideas, he in 1869 purchased 
a farm of about 200 acres on the suburbs of the town. 16 

The purchase of a homestead stands out in the history of 
these families as a decisive event. 17 When another family, 
already referred to in another place, was finally reunited 

Cf. chap. v. 

16 Phillips, op. cit. y pp. 12-13. I7 See p. 105 above. 


after slavery, the father began to buy a home not far from 
the slave homestead where he had lived with his family from 
1841 to 185 1. l8 The story of the purchase of the home, as 
related by the daughter and historian of the family, is as 
follows : 

On July 14, 1868, father bound the bargain with B. F. Guy, July i, 
1868, for a hill adjoining Riverdale, containing ten acres, more or less, 
for the sum of one thousand dollars ($1,000), by paying him $344.75! 
This meant deprivation such as you, of this day and time, know not 
of almost starvation. But the mother and sister some, if not all of 
us, would have been sacrificed for sheer need of the common necessi- 
ties of life. 

Father's journal tells me that after receiving a note from B. F. Guy 
saying come at once if you want the land, Adam F. Plummer went to 
see Guy that night, carrying with him $344.75 that he had saved and 
borrowed to bind the bargain. By September 26, 1868, Guy sent for 
another payment (as if money grew on bushes for the freed men). 
That evening he carried him $160.25, making $505 paid! Hard? worse 
than that, but the thought of being in our own home urged them on! 
Father, mother, sister, Henry, Julia, and Saunders worked out and 
gave all they could make. By January 17, 1870, father had paid the 
entire thousand dollars! Much to Guy's surprise. For he was a specu- 

He never dreamed that father would or could pay for it in the 
specified time two years! So when it was completed in 18 months, 
it was indeed a wonder! Guy's neighbors had said to him: "You are 
ruining our country!" "How is that," said Guy. "Why selling 'Ne- 

18 See pp. 37 and 38 above. In 1866 the father and mother supplemented 
their savings with money borrowed from friends and sent their son to New 
Orleans to bring back their daughter who had been sold while living in 
Washington, D.C. The original paper, which was pasted in the father's 
diary, reads as follows: "In the year of our Lord, 1866, October n, Adam 
F. Plummer gives his son, Henry V. Plummer, permission to go to New 
Orleans, La., on Napoleon Avenue, between Fchoupitoulas and Jesey, for 
his eldest sister, Sarah Miranda Plummer, Mrs. Sarah Miranda Howard" 
(Nellie A. Plummer, Out of the Depths or the Triumph of the Cross [Hyattsville, 
Md., 1927], pp. 96-97. 


groes land.' " Guy would reply: "Don't worry, they can't raise the 
money. In time, I'll take the land back." 

But he didn't know the man with whom he was dealing! Guy said 
to father: "Never mind my payments, put up a nice house." "O no! 
Mr. Guy, not until I get the land paid for," said father. 

Strange to say, by September, 1870, father had finished building 
our four-room log house, and we moved from that happy place on 
Calvert's land, where sister, Miranda, had returned, and where the 
church was started, about two or three hundred feet westward toward 
the B.&O. R.R., into a happier place Our Own Home! And by 
March 17, 1872, every dollar that had been borrowed had been re- 
turned. 1 ' 

The reference to the founding of the church in their old 
home shows the close relationships between the beginnings 
of the family on an institutional basis and the building-up of 
the church or the institution which expresses more than any 
other the autonomous and collective life of the Negroes after 
emancipation. The historian of the Phillips family writes 
concerning his father: 

One of the first things he thought of after emancipation was the 
importance of procuring a lot for a church. With this aim in view he 
approached the honorable Jesse Beal, a worthy white citizen, who 
gave a lot not far from the cemetery in that part of Milledgeville where 
the colored Baptist Church, the colored school, and the "home of the 
Yankee teachers" as they were called were located. It was in 1866 
when this movement began and it continued without abatement till 
a Church edifice named Trinity was constructed. 20 

The church was under the domination of the men, and 
whatever control it attempted to exercise tended to confirm 
the man's interest and authority in the family. They found 
sanction for male ascendancy in the Bible, which, for the 
newly emancipated slaves, was the highest authority in such 
matters. But in the final analysis the Negro church had to 

Ibid., p. 106. ao Phillips, op. cit., p. 10. 


accommodate itself to the folkways and mores of its con- 
stituents which had grown out of their fundamental in- 

We may turn, therefore, to another factor which, like 
the acquisition of property or a home, gave the man a funda- 
mental interest in his family and placed his ascendancy on 
a firm basis. It was not uncommon for the more ambitious 
slaves, who were permitted to hire their time, to purchase 
their freedom and the freedom of their wives and children. 
Washington Irving records in his journals that on a trip 
down the Mississippi he saw 

a negro merchant thirty-six years old going to New Orleans with 
forty dozen fowles had canoe or boat with corn to feed them 
goes down in steam-boat gets passage for nothing from some buys 
one dollar doz. sells three dollars has followed the business twelve 
years brings back nothing but money pays his master fifty dollars 
a year lays up money to buy himself free buries it cannot buy 
himself till next year has wife and children but cannot buy them 
means to go far where he can make most money, but means to see his 
wife and children occasionally and take care of them. 21 

The numerous court cases involving property rights in 
slaves who were bought or contracted for by relatives give 
us some idea of the difficulties which husbands and fathers 
experienced in securing the freedom of their wives and chil- 
dren. For example, in 1840 a free colored man in South 
Carolina was forced to pay $500 for his wife who was sickly 
and died after he gave notes for her. The record of the case 

Doll, a female slave, "had been the wife of the defendant (Bass), 
a free man of colour, and had been separated from him by her master, 
Lyles, who carried her away into North Carolina. The defendant went 

n The Journals of Washington Irving, ed. William P. Trent and George 
S. Hellman (Boston, 1919), III, 108-9. 


to North Carolina to purchase her. Lyles told him she was very sick 
that she was unsound, and he had better not buy her; but he said, 
it was his own look out, she was his wife. Lyles then told him that, if 
she died before she left there, he should not pay for her, .... bargain 
was completed by the defendant giving his notes for $250, At the 
time .... and long before, Doll was obviously very ill .... of no pe- 
cuniary value .... declined constantly till she died. When sound .... 
offered for sale for $300. Bass was a man slow of apprehension, and 
easily imposed upon."" 

But, of course, many men were more fortunate in their 
attempts to purchase their wives and children. For instance, 
a free Negro in Mississippi who emigrated to Africa with 
his family paid $500 for his wife and $3,500 for his six chil- 
dren and three grandchildren. 23 The story of Noah Davis, 
who enjoyed considerable freedom of movement and oppor- 
tunities for earning money, will show how long some fathers 
labored to purchase their wives and children. 24 In his youth 
he was bound out to learn the boot and shoe trade in Freder- 
icksburg, Virginia. The incident that led to his religious con- 
version was the solemn account given at a prayer meeting 
by an old man of the sudden death of a young woman. It 
was at the church that he met his wife, who "embraced reli- 
gion about the same time" as he did. His desire to purchase 

22 Helen T. Catterall (ed.), Judicial Cases concerning American Slavery 
and the Negro (Washington, D.C., 1929), II, 377. 

2 3 Charles S. Sydnor, Slavery in Mississippi (New York, 1933), p. 220. 
** Noah Davis, The Narrative of the Life of Rev. Noah Davis (Baltimore, 

1859). The "Notice to the Public," which forms the Preface of this book, 
states (p. 3): "The object of the writer, in preparing this account of himself, 

ERY. Having already, within twelve years past, purchased himself, his wife, 
and five of his children, at a cost, altogether, of over FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS, 
he now earnestly desires a humane and Christian public to AID HIM IN THE 
SALE OF THIS BOOK, for the purpose of finishing the task in which he has so 
long and anxiously labored." 


his freedom was due to his yearning to learn to read the 
scriptures : 

In my attempts to preach the gospel to my fellow sinners, I often 
felt embarrassed, not knowing how to read a chapter in the Bible 
correctly. My desires now increased for such a knowledge of the 
sacred Scriptures, as would enable me to read a chapter publicly to 
my hearers. I thought that if I had all my time at my own command, 
I would devote it all to divine things. This desire I think, led me more 
than anything else, to ask permission of my master, Dr. F. Patten, 
to purchase my freedom. a * 

Concerning getting his master's consent, he writes: 

I went to him, and stated my wishes, informing him why I wanted 
to be free that I had been led to believe the Lord had converted my 
soul, and had called me to talk to sinners. He granted my request, 

without a single objection, fixing my price at five hundred dollars 

But now I had to tell him that I had no money, and that I desired 
him to grant me another request; which was, to let me travel and find 
friends, who would give me the money. After learning my wishes fully, 
he consented, told me, when I got ready to start, he would give me a 
pass, to go where I pleased. 26 

After paying one hundred and fifty dollars on his debt, 
Davis spent four months in 1845 visiting churches in Phila- 
delphia, New York, and Boston, where he succeeded in rais- 
ing only an additional one hundred and fifty dollars. His 
narrative tells us of his discouragement at this time: 

I began to wonder to myself, whether God was in this matter, or 
not; and if so, why I had not succeeded. However, having returned 
home, I went to work at my trade, for the purpose of earning the re- 
mainder of the money. Having paid what I was able, toward my 
debt, and reserving enough to open a shop, upon my own account, 
my old boss, Mr. Wright, my true and constant friend, became my 
protector, so that I might carry on my business lawfully. In this, 
however, I was not very successful; but I had not been long engaged 

a s ibid., p. 28. 2fi Ibid., p. 29. 


at it, before I received a communication from my white Baptist friends 
in Baltimore, through my pastor, Rev. Sam/1 Smith, informing me 
that if I would come to Baltimore, and accept an appointment as 
missionary to the colored people in that city, they would assist me in 
raising the balance of the money then due upon myself. 3 * 

Davis overcame his reluctance in leaving his family that 
had been placed under his entire control by the widow who 
owned his wife and children and began his career in Balti- 
more. After paying for his own freedom his next step was 
to contract for his wife and children : 

I had now been in Baltimore more than a year. My wife and seven 
children were still in Virginia. I went to see them as often as my cir- 
cumstances permitted three or four times a year. About this time, 
my wife's mistress agreed to sell to me my wife and two youngest 
children. The price fixed, was eight hundred dollars cash, and she 
gave me twelve months to raise the money. The sun rose bright in 
my sky that day; but before the year was out, my prospects were 
again in darkness. Now I had two great burdens upon my mind: one 
to attend properly to my missionary duty, the other to raise eight 
hundred dollars. During this time we succeeded in getting a better 
place for the Sabbath school, and there was a larger attendance upon 
my preaching, which demanded reading and study, and also visiting, 
and increased my daily labors. On the other hand, the year was 
running away, in which I had to raise eight hundred dollars. So that 
I found myself at times in a great strait. 38 

Davis continued to meet disappointments in the struggle 
to free his family. At the end of the year the value of the 
children had increased a hundred dollars. It was only 
through the kindness of a loan of two hundred dollars from 
a friend that he raised the six hundred dollars in cash. His 
final success in obtaining the freedom of his wife and two 
children is recounted in the following: 

*7 Ibid., pp. 30-31- a8 Ibid-, P- 37- 


Having now in hand the six hundred dollars, and the promise of 
Mr. Wright's security for three hundred more, I was, by twelve 
o'clock the next day in Fredericksburg. At first sight, my wife was 
surprised that I had come back so soon; for it was only two weeks 
since I had left her; and when I informed her that I had come after 
her and the children, she could hardly believe me. In a few days, hav- 
ing duly arranged all things relative to the purchase and removal, we 
left for Baltimore, with feelings commingled with joy and sorrow 
sorrow at parting with five of our older children, and our many friends; 
and rejoicing in the prospect of remaining together permanently in 
the missionary field, where God had called me to labor. I arrived in 
Baltimore, with my wife and two little ones, November 5th, 1851, 
and stopped with sister Hester Ann Hughes, a worthy member of the 
M.E. Church, with whom I had been boarding for four years. 29 

Of his continued efforts to buy the five children left in Vir- 
ginia we learn: 

I have been much hindered in my own labors, from pecuniary em- 
barrassment, arising from the sale of my children, who were left in 
Virginia two daughters and three sons. The first of these, who was 
about to be sold, and taken away South, was my oldest daughter; 
and it was with great difficulty and the help of friends that I raised 
eight hundred and fifty dollars, and got her on to Baltimore. But I 
was soon called upon to make a similar effort to save my eldest son 
from being sold far from me. Entirely unexpected, I received the pain- 

39 Ibid., pp. 40-41. Davis tells how the borrowed money was repaid: 
"My salary was only three hundred dollars a year; but with hard exertion 
and close economy, together with my wife's taking in washing and going out 
at day's work, we were enabled by the first of the year, to pay the two 
hundred dollars our dear friend had loaned us, in raising the six hundred 
dollars before spoken of. But the bond for three hundred dollars was now 
due, and how must this be met? I studied out a plan; which was to get some 
gentleman who might want a little servant girl, to take my child, and advance 
me three hundred dollars for the purpose of paying my note, which was now 
due in Virginia. In this plan I succeeded; and had my own life insured for 
seven years for five hundred dollars, and made it over to this gentleman, 
as security; until I ultimately paid him the whole amount; though I was 
several years in paying it" (ibid., p. 42). 


ful news that my boy was in one of the trader's jails in Richmond, and 
for sale. The dealer knew me, and was disposed to let me have him, 
if I could get any one to purchase him. I was, of course, deeply anxious 
to help get my boy; but I began to think that I had already drawn so 
heavily on the liberality of all my friends, that to appeal to them 
again seemed out of the question. I immediately wrote to the owners 
of my son, and received an answer that his price was fixed at seven 
hundred dollars. 30 

The seven hundred dollars for hi3 son was finally raised 
through the generosity of the various colored congregations 
in Baltimore and a loan from a friend. The other daughter, 
whose price was run up by a slave-trader to over a thousand 
dollars, was finally purchased, through money collected in 
white and colored churches from friends who had bought the 
girl in order to prevent her from being sold South. Davis 
wrote the history of his life and struggles in order to raise 
money to buy his two remaining boys who had been sold in 
settling the estate of their mistress. 

In order to make his wife and children legally free it was 
necessary, of course, for the father to emancipate them. A 
free Negro man gave his wife the following deed of manu- 
mission in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1837: 

Know all men by these presents, that I, Samuel V. Brown, of the 
town of Petersburg, have manumitted, emancipated and set free, and 
I do by these presents manumit, emancipate, and set free, my wife, 
Alice Brown a woman purchased by me from Mary Ann Vizonneau 
by her bill of sale dated the 24th day of June, 1831 and of record in 
the Hustings court of Petersburg, the said woman being called in the 
said bill of sale "Else Scott" and I hereby invest my said wife Alice 
Brown with all the rights and privileges of a free person of color which 
it is in my power to vest her. She is a woman of yellow complexion, 
five feet four inches high, and about twenty eight years old. In testi- 

30 Ibid., pp. 54-55. 


mony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal this 
ist day of November A.D. 1837. a* 

But, in many cases, instead of legally emancipating his 
wife and children, the father permitted them to continue 
in their status as slaves. Thus we find that many of the 
Negro owners of slaves were really relatives. 32 Woodson has 
pointed out the fact that some husbands who purchased 
their wives did not liberate them immediately because they 
"considered it advisable to put them on probation for a few 
years, and if they did not find them satisfactory, they would 
sell their wives as other slave holders disposed of Negroes." 33 
He cites the case of a Charleston shoemaker who paid $700 
for his wife but sold her for $750 when he found her hard 
to please. Another owner of his wife meted out the same 
punishment when she became enamoured of a slave and 
gave her husband's free papers to her lover. In these cases 
we can see how the man's ownership of his wife and chil- 
dren gave substance to his claim to authority in the family. 
In purchasing his wife and children the man not only se- 
cured authority over them, but he also acquired a funda- 
mental interest in them since they represented the fruit of 
his industry and sacrifices. 

In some present-day Negro families of the patriarchal 
type, it appears that the male ancestor's original interest 
and ascendancy in the family were due in part at least to 
the fact that he purchased his wife and children. Let us 
take, for example, a pioneer family in Chicago which has 
been prominent in the life of the Negro community for over 

3 "Documents," Journal of Negro History, XIII, 535. 

32 "Free Negro Owners of Slaves in the United States in 1830," Journal 
of Negro History, IX, 41. 

33 Ibid. 


a half-century. According to our informant, his father, who 
came to Chicago with a drove of cattle in 1854 and con- 
tracted to buy land, "was never treated as an ordinary 

[His master] would trust him to drive his cattle into free territory 
and would give him a percentage of the sale. He went back to Ken- 
tucky and contracted to get his family. They had promised to let 
him have his family without charge but they made him buy them. He 
was afraid not to buy them as they would be sold South. He was com- 
pelled to pay $4,000 for his family and was thus deprived of the means 
of buying land.34 

After the father brought his family to Chicago, he was 
not satisfied to live within the Negro settlement. He moved 
to his own place on the outskirts of the city. As related by 
the son, the father's strict discipline of his children was ex- 
emplified in his requiring his sons to work the entire sum- 
mers with him on jobs for which he contracted. Moreover, 
this son brought his earnings home until he was twenty- 
seven years old. However, because of his father's discipline 
and pride, the son felt that he never knew his father inti- 
mately. "He was one of those old Romans; children should 
be seen and not heard," was the son's concise characteriza- 
tion of his father, who died in the midst of his plans to secure 
more land for his family. 

In tracing the origin and development of the Negro 
father's authority in family relations, we have seen how, 
following emancipation, this was facilitated by the economic 
subordination of the woman. To some extent, of course, his 
authority as well as his interest in his family represented a 
carry-over from slavery. Even in such cases, it was chiefly 

J Manuscript document. 


through the acquisition of property that his interest was 
established on a permanent basis. Before emancipation the 
father often acquired at least a proprietary interest in his 
family when he bought his wife and children and thereby 
brought them under his authority. But such families ac- 
tually form a part of the nearly half-million Negroes who 
were free before the Civil War. In fact, it was among these 
free Negroes that the family was first established upon an 
institutional basis. 


Among the "twenty Negars" who were brought in 1619 
to Virginia in "a dutch man of warre" and sold to the 
colonists, there were some whose names indicated that they 
had been baptized by the Spaniards. 1 It is probable that at 
that time the distinction between Christian and heathen or 
baptized and unbaptized had as much significance as the 
distinction between white and black at a later date. 2 Con- 
tracts of indenture indicate that the Negroes who were 
brought to America during the early years of the colony 
were placed in the same category as the white servants. In 
1625 a Negro named Erase was assigned to Lady Yardley 
at a monthly wage of "forty pownd waight of good mer- 
chantable tobacco for his labor and service so longe as he 
remayneth with her/' 3 As early as 1651 we find a Negro, 
Anthony Johnson, who was probably enumerated among 
the indentured servants in the census of 1624, having as- 
signed to him in fee simple a land patent for two hundred 
and fifty acres of land. 4 The slave status, for which the 
colonists had no model in England, "developed in customary 

1 Helen T. Catterall (ed.), Judicial Cases concerning American Slavery 
an>i the Negro (Washington, D.C., 1926), pp. 55-56. 

2 " 'John Phillip A. negro* who was 'sworn and exam* in the general court 
of Virginia in 1624, was qualified as a free man and Christian to give testi- 
mony, because he had been 'Christened in England 12 years since* " (ibid., 
P 55 n.)- 

* Ibid., p. 72. 

John H. Russell, The Free Negro in Virginia (Baltimore, 1913), p. 25. 



law, and was legally sanctioned at first by court decisions." 5 
There is a certain irony in the fact that in 1653 the same 
Anthony Johnson mentioned above was a defendant in a 
suit brought against him by another Negro for his freedom 
from servitude on the grounds that the latter had served 
"seaven or eight years of Indenture." 6 By 1667 Negro labor 
had evidently become so profitable that Virginia enacted a 
law that "the conferring of baptisme doth -not alter the 
condition of the person as to his bondage or freedome." 
Masters, thus freed from the risk of losing their property, 
could "more carefully endeavour the propagation of Chris- 
tianity." Thenceforth color became the badge of servitude, 
and a Negro was presumed to be a slave. 7 

Although it appears that Negroes who came to Virginia 
after 1682 as servants could not acquire their freedom after 
a limited period of service, the free Negro population con- 
tinued to increase until the Civil War. Russell has indicated 
the five sources through which the free Negro population 
increased: (i) children born of free colored persons; (2) 
mulatto children born of free colored mothers; (3) mulatto 
children born of white servants or free women ; (4) children 
of free Negro and Indian parentage; and (5) manumitted 
slaves. 8 It is, of course, impossible to estimate to what ex- 
tent the free Negro population was increased through each 
of these sources. Nor can we say just how much was due to 
natural increase. The numerous cases of offspring of white 
fathers and free colored mothers indicate that the free Negro 
population was enlarged through this source. 9 Mulattoes 

* Ibid., pp. 18-19. 7 Catterall, op. cit., p. 57. 

6 Ibid., p. 32. 8 Op cit., pp. 40-41. 

9 Carter G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States 
in 1830 (Washington, D.C., 1925), Introd., p. vi. 


born of white servant women were also a significant ele- 
ment, for it was soon the cause for special legislative action. 
Virginia, in 1691, passed a law providing that "any white 
woman marrying a negro or mulatto, bond or free," should 
be banished. 10 In 1681 Maryland had passed a law that 
children born of white servant women and Negroes were 
free. Eleven years later in the same state any white woman 
who married or became the mother of a child by either a 
slave or a free Negro became a servant for seven years." 

During the early years of the Republic the growth of the 
free Negro population was rapid, amounting to about three 
times that of the slave population. But after 1810 there 
was a distinct decline in the rate of the increase of the free 
Negro population, and during the next two decades there 
was only a small difference in the rates of growth of these 
two elements in the Negro population. It seems that the 
increase in the free Negro population of 36.8 per cent in 
1830 was due to the gradual emancipation which was taking 
place in northern states." Beginning in 1840, the rate of 
increase in the slave population was greater than that of the 
free Negroes and, during the two succeeding decades, so far 
exceeded the rate for the free population that it is difficult 
to account for the difference. 13 

10 Russell, op. cit. y p. 124. 

"Jeffrey R. Brackett, The Negro in Maryland (Baltimore, 1889), p. 33. 

" Woodson, op. cit. t p. xviii. 

f * Bureau of the Census, Negro Population in the United States, 1790-1915 
(Washington, 1918), p. 54. Concerning the decline in the rate of increase of 
the free Negro population the census report makes the following statement: 
"Census data do not very clearly account for this decline in the rate of in- 
crease of the free element in the Negro population, so far below the rate for 
the slave population, but it may be noted that, as compared with the slave 
population, the free colored were somewhat older, as on that account natu- 



Although the free Negro population did not grow as rap- 
idly after 1840 as during the preceding decades, there was 
a steady growth in particular areas. These developments 
were related in part to certain fundamental changes in the 


UNITED STATES, 1790-1860 






Decennial Increase 


Per Cent 







i860. . 
1850. . 
1830. . 
1810. . 
1800. . 
1790. . 






II. O 




66 , 604 







* Bureau of the Census, Negro Population in the United States, 1790-1915 (Washington, 
IQI8), p. 53. 

ecological organization of slavery. Phillips has described the 
changes which had taken place in Virginia and Maryland 
by 1860: 

Tidewater Virginia and the greater part of Maryland had long been 
exhausted for plantation purposes and were being reclaimed by farm- 
ers working with much the same methods as were followed in the 
northern states. The large land- and slave-owners mostly followed an 

rally subject to a higher mortality rate, and somewhat less normally distrib- 
uted by sex and, therefore, probably characterized by a marital condition 
less favorable to rapid natural increase." 


example which George Washington had set and divided up their es- 
tates into small units, in each of which a few Negroes worked in the 
raising of varied crops under the control of a white man, who was more 
a foreman leading the squad than an overseer driving it. Planters who 
adhered to the old methods were now of decayed estate, supported 
more by the sale of slaves than by the raising of tobacco. Incidentally, 
eastern Virginia and Maryland had come to have a very large number 
of free Negroes. 14 

The relation between these changes and the growth in 
the free Negro population was more than incidental. Free 
Negroes did not constitute a conspicuous element in the 
Negro population where the plantation system flourished. 
The Alabama black lands and the Mississippi and Red 
River bottoms were still calling for slaves. 15 In Mississippi 
the number of free Negroes was always insignificant. The 
supreme court of the state held that "the laws of this state 
presume a negro prima facie to be a slave/' 16 

Thus we find the free Negro population concentrated in 
seven characteristic areas: the Tidewater region of Virginia 
and Maryland ; the Piedmont region of North Carolina and 
Virginia; the seaboard cities of Charleston, South Carolina, 
Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans; the northern cities, 
including Boston, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Phila- 
delphia, Baltimore, and Washington; settlements in the 
Northwest Territory, located in Michigan, Indiana, and 
Ohio; isolated communities of Negroes mixed with Indians; 
and, finally, the Seminoles of Florida. 17 The Tidewater re- 

* Ulrich B. Phillips, Documentary History of American Industrial Society: 
Plantation and Frontier (2 vols.; Cleveland, 1910-11), I, 88-89. 

** Ibid ., pp. 89-90. 

16 Charles S. Sydnor, "The Free Negro in Mississippi before the Civil 
War." American Historical Review, XXXII (July, 1927), 773. 

'? Lectures on "The Negro in America" by Robert E. Park. 


gion of Virginia "always had from one-half to two-thirds 
of the entire free negro class, although after 1830 that sec- 
tion contained less than one-fourth of the white people of 
the state." 18 Like other elements which do not fit into the 
traditional social order, the free Negroes tended to become 
concentrated in the cities. In 1860 between a fourth and a 
third of the free colored population lived in the towns and 
cities of Virginia. 19 The city of Baltimore had 25,680 of the 
83,942 free Negroes in Maryland in i86o. 20 A similar situa- 
tion existed in Louisiana, where 10,689 f the 18,647 free 
Negroes lived in New Orleans in i86o. 21 More than a third 
of the free Negro population of Pennsylvania in 1860 was in 
Philadelphia. 22 Concerning Mississippi, Sydnor found that 
"10 per cent of the slaves in Adams County lived in the city 
of Natchez, 57 per cent of the whites and 73 per cent of the 
free colored .... [while] Vicksburg contained 71 of the 104 
free persons of color residing within the county. " 23 

One of the most striking characteristics of the free Negro 
communities was the prominence of the mulatto element. 
About three-eighths of the free Negroes in the United States 
in 1850 were classed as mulattoes, whereas only about a 
twelfth of the slave population was regarded as of mixed 
blood. 24 Although no definite information exists concerning 

18 Russell, op. cit. t p. 13. 

x Ibid.-, p. 15. 80 Brackett, op. cit. y p. 265. 

" Negro Population in the United States, 1790-1915, pp. 195-96. 

" Edward Raymond Turner, The Negro in Pennsylvania (Washington, 
1911), p. 253. 

*3 Op. cit., p. 782. 

** "At the censuses of 1850 and 1860 the terms 'black 1 and 'mulatto* 
appear not to have been defined. In 1850 enumerators were instructed simply 
in enumerating colored persons to write 'B' or 'M* in the space on the 
schedule to indicate black or mulatto, leaving the space blank in the case 
of whites" (Negro Population in the United States, 1790-1915, p. 207). 


the number of mulattoes during the Colonial period, 35 we 
find that in 1752 in Baltimore County, Maryland, 196 of the 
312 mulattoes were free, while all of the 4,035 Negroes ex- 
cept 8 were slaves. 26 Early in the settlement of Virginia 
doubts concerning the status of mulatto children were the 
occasion for special legislation which determined that mu- 
latto children should have the status of their mother. 27 In 
Maryland, by an act of 1681, children born of white servant 
women and Negroes were free. By another act in 1692 mu- 
latto children through such unions lost their free status and 
became servants for a long term. 28 In Pennsylvania the mu- 
lattoes followed the status of their mothers and, when the 
offspring of a free mother, became a servant for a term of 
years. 29 The conspicuousness of the mulatto element in the 
free Negro population was not due, therefore, to any legal 
presumption in its favor. 30 

2 * Edward B. Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States (Boston, 1918), 

p. 112. 

26 Brackett, op. cit., pp. 175-76. a8 Brackett, op. cit., p. 33. 

27 Russell, op. cit., p. 19. 39 Turner, op. cit., pp. 24-25. 

3 The accessions to the free Negro class through unions of free white 
women and Negro men and free colored women and white men was kept at 
a minimum by the drastic laws against such unions. Nor can the enormous 
increase in the free mulattoes be accounted for by natural increase from their 
own numbers. The increase in the number of free mulattoes came chiefly 
from the offspring of slave women and white masters who manumitted their 
mulatto children. Russell (op. cit., p. 127) says concerning the free mulattoes 
of Virginia: "The free mulatto class, which numbered 23,500 by 1860, was 
of course the result of illegal relations of white persons with negroes; but, 
excepting those born of mulatto parents, most persons of the free class 
were not born of free negro and white mothers, but of slave mothers, and 
were set free because of their kinship to their master and owner." Sydnor 
(op. cit., p. 787), in showing how the sex relations existing between masters 
and slaves were responsible for the free class in Mississippi, cites the fact 
that, "of the 773 free persons of color in Mississippi in the year 1860, 601 
were of mixed blood, and only 172 were black. Among the slaves this condi- 


Free Negroes concentrated in urban areas were able to 
get some formal education. In 1850 there were large num- 
bers attending schools in northern cities. Boston seems to 
have been the most favorable city for free Negroes in re- 
gard to school attendance. In the case of the Virginia cities 
the absence of any returns for school attendance was due to 
the stringency of the laws against the instruction of Ne- 
groes. The small number attending school in Charleston was 
doubtless attributable to the same cause. Nevertheless, it 
is a significant fact that the number of adults who could 
not read or write was almost negligible. 31 The restrictions 
upon the education of the free Negro population were, 
probably, as one author holds, never enforced. 32 In New 
Orleans the large number of Negroes in school was made 
up of the free mulatto class, who constituted a distinct 
caste in the city. Mobile, Alabama, showed up favorably in 
regard to the small number of illiterate adults. The absence 
of returns for school attendance in Savannah reflected the 
local sentiment against the education of Negroes. This is 
further attested by the large number of illiterate adults. 
However, in Charleston as early as 1790 the Brown Fellow- 
ship Society, organized among the free colored people, main- 
tained schools for Negro children. Later, other societies were 

tion was entirely reversed. Tn this same year there were 400,013 slaves who 
were classed as blacks and only 36,618 who were mulattoes." The predomi- 
nance of the mulattoes among free Negroes was most marked in Louisiana, 
where of the 18,647 f ree Negroes, 15,158 were mulattoes (Population of the 
United States in 1860 [Washington, 1864], p. 194). 

3' See Table n, Appen. B. 

* a C. W. Birnie, "The Education of the Negro in Charleston, S.C., before 
the Civil War," Journal of Negro History, XII, 17-18. 


formed especially for the education of indigent and or- 
phaned Negro children. 33 

In New Orleans, where the Creoles and freedmen counted early in 
the nineteenth century as a substantial element in society, persons of 
color had secured to themselves better facilities of education. The 
people of this city did not then regard it as a crime for Negroes to 
acquire an education, their white instructors felt that they were not 
condescending in teaching them, and children of Caucasian blood 
raised no objection to attending special and parochial schools accessible 
to both races. The educational privileges which the colored people 
there enjoyed, however, were largely paid for by the progressive freed- 
men themselves. Some of them educated their children in France. " 

The social life of the free colored groups centered for the 
most part about the churches and the fraternal organiza- 
tions. 35 In Boston as early as 1784 a Masonic lodge was 
formed with fifteen members. The first Negro church, orig- 
inally called the African Meeting-House, was organized in 
Boston in 1805. 36 New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore 

33 Ibid., p. 15; Woodson, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (New 
York and London, 1915), p. 129. 

34 Woodson, Education of the Negro Prior to 1861, pp. 128-29. Although 
the colored people of northern cities like New York and Philadelphia did 
not support their education to the extent that they did in Baltimore and 
Washington, there was a class of ambitious and thrifty Negroes who paid 
for the education of their children. In New England education among the 
colored people began almost from the beginning of their enslavement but 
received an impetus after the Revolution. A separate school for the colored 
children was established in 1 798 with a white teacher. According to Wood- 
son, who has made a thorough study of Negro education before the Civil 
War, "an epoch in the history of Negro education in New England was 
marked in 1820, when the city of Boston opened its first primary school for 
the education of colored children" (ibid., p. 96). 

35 Woodson, The History of the Negro Church (2d ed. ; Washington, 1921), 
p. 266; see also Benjamin Brawley, A Social History of the American Negro 
(New York, 1921), pp. 66-74. 

* 6 John Daniels, In Freedom's Birthplace (Boston, 1914), p. 21. 


had large Negro congregations. The African Baptist church 
was organized in Philadelphia in 1809. Baltimore had ten 
congregations as early as 1835. 37 The activity of Richard 
Allen, who became the first bishop of the African Methodist 
Episcopal church, shows how the growing race conscious- 
ness of the Negroes in Philadelphia necessitated a separate 
church in which the Negro could give expression to his own 
religious life. 38 A similar movement for separate churches 
among Negroes took place in Washington as early as 

l820. 39 

In the urban environment free Negroes were able to enter 
a variety of occupations that afforded them some degree of 
economic security and independence. In the North they 
found themselves in keen competition with white labor. A 
study 40 of the Negro population in Philadelphia in 1847 
showed the occupations of 3,358 Negro males to be as fol- 
lows: mechanics, 286; laborers, 1,581; seafaring men, 240; 
coachmen, carters, etc., 276; shopkeepers and traders, 166; 
waiters, cooks, etc., 557; hairdressers, 156; various, 96. 
There were also among the men musicians, preachers, physi- 
cians, and schoolteachers. Although the majority of the 
4,249 Negro women were classed as washerwomen and do- 
mestic servants, 486 were needlewomen, and 213 were in 
trades. The lowest class of colored people who were out of 
employment found in "ragging and boning" a means of 
livelihood. A significant development in the economic life 

u Woodson, History of the Negro Church, p. 136. 

a* Richard Allen, The Life, Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. 
Richard Allen (Philadelphia, 1830), pp. 21-28. 

John W. Cromwell, "The First Negro Churches in Washington," Jour- 
nal of Negro History, VII, 65. 

A Statistical Inquiry into the Condition of the People of Colour, of the 
City and District of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1849), pp. 17-18. 


of the Philadelphia Negro prior to the Civil War was the 
guild of the caterers which grew up about 1840 and con- 
tinued until about 1870. Through them the Negro was able 
to overcome the disastrous competition of foreign labor and 
find a field where the more energetic among them could 
achieve economic independence. 41 The free Negroes of Bal- 
timore became formidable competitors of the white laboring 
population. 42 In spite of the prejudice in New York City 
against Negro labor, Negroes were engaged in skilled as 
well as unskilled occupations. Although in the census for 
1850 they were listed chiefly as servants and laborers, some 
had found a place in the skilled occupations as carpenters, 
musicians, and tailors. 43 

In Charleston and New Orleans the free Negro acquired 
a relatively secure foothold in the economic order. There 
were listed for 1860 among the taxpayers in Charleston 371 
free persons of color, including 13 Indians, who were paying 
taxes on real estate valued at about a million dollars and 
389 slaves. 44 After the abortive attempt at insurrection by 
Denmark Vesey in 1822, a memorial was presented to the 
Senate and House of Representatives concerning the free 
persons of color. It was argued that this class constituted a 
menace to white society because their monopoly of the 
mechanical arts caused German, Swiss, and Scotch immi- 
grants to seek homes in the West. 45 In New Orleans, where 
color was not so great a bar as in many other cities, we 

< x W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro (Philadelphia, 1899), 
PP. 32-39. 

< a Charles H. Wesley, Negro Labor in the United States, 1850-1925: A 
Study in American Economic History (New York, 1927), p. 32. 

Ibid., pp. 37-38. 

44 List of the Tax Payers of the City of Charleston for 1860 > pp. 315-34. 

45 Phillips op. cit., II, 108. 


find free Negroes in many skilled occupations. Of the oc- 
cupations given for 1,463 mulattoes in 1850, 299 were car- 
penters, 143 cigar-makers, 213 masons, 76 shoemakers, and 
79 tailors. There were listed also 61 clerks, 12 teachers, i 
architect, and 4 capitalists. 46 The property owned by the 
free colored people in New Orleans in 1860 amounted to 
about fifteen million dollars. 47 An enumeration in 1819 of 
the free Negroes in Richmond County, Georgia, where they 
numbered 194, showed the men to be employed in boating, 
carpentry, harness-making, wagoning, and common labor; 
and the women in sewing, washing, and domestic service. 48 

The foregoing facts give quite a different picture of the 
economic status of the free colored people from those ac- 
counts which represent them as a wholly dependent and de- 
based pariah class. 49 Undoubtedly, those observers who 
have reported the miserable conditions among free Negroes 
have been faithful in their portrayal of a portion of the free 
population. But we are primarily interested in the class of 
free Negroes who were able to achieve some degree of eco- 
nomic independence and culture which became the basis 
of future progress. 

Dodge's description of the free Negroes in the rural sec- 
tions of North Carolina refers to those in the Piedmont 
region; for the free Negroes in the coastal region were un- 
doubtedly better off. He writes: 

A very few free Negroes prospered, bought larger and better farms, 
and even owned slaves one as many as thirty, which they held up 
to general emancipation. But generally when they bought land at all, 
the purchase was ludicrously small, and, in the country phrase, "so 

< 6 Wesley, op. cit., pp. 37-38. 7 Ibid., p. 50. 

< 8 Phillips, op. cit., I, i43~47. 

4 See H. B. Schoolcraft, By a Southern Lady: Letters on the Condition of 
the African Race in the United States (Philadelphia, 1852). 


po' it couldn't sprout er pea dout grunt'n." On these infinitesimal 
bits they built flimsy log huts, travesties in every respect of the rude 
dwellings of the earliest white settlers. The timber growth being often 
too scant to afford fence rails, their little patches of phantom corn 
mixed with pea-vines or, rather, stubs, their little quota of hulls 
akimbo on top were encircled by brush fences, which even by dint 
of annual renewals were scarcely to be regarded by a beast of average 
hunger and enterprise^ 

Turning now to the free Negro communities in the North- 
west Territory, we find the settlement in Cass County, 
Michigan, of considerable interest. In this county in 1850 
there were 389 colored persons, 19 of whom were attending 
school, while in 1860 the total population had grown to 
1,368, among whom there were 981 mulattoes. Concerning 
the history of this colony, one of its descendants gives the 
following incidents : 

In 1847, a white Virginian named Saunders, becoming convinced 
that slavery was wrong, set his coloured people free, and brought 
them out to Michigan. In "Chain Lake Settlement" he bought a 
splendid tract of land nearly one mile square, gave all his people homes 
and spent his remaining years among them. Other masters in Vir- 
ginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee also freed all or a part of their 
slaves, sometimes the old and infirm ones; sometimes the incorrigi- 
bles. These, with free Negroes from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, con- 
tinued to swell the population of the Settlement. Most of these people 
had helped to make the fortunes of their former masters. Now they 
were eager to accumulate something for themselves and their pos- 
terity.* 1 

The colony of Negroes at Wilberforce, Ohio, originated 
largely from the mulatto children of white planters who 
used to visit the summer resort at Tawawa Springs. The 

s David Dodge, "The Free Negroes of North Carolina," Atlantic Monthly, 
LVII, 24. 

si James D. Corruthers, In Spite of Handicap: An Autobiography (New 
York, 1916), pp. 17-18. 


school which was established for these children was first 
taught by Yankees. According to a woman who went to 
school there, the planters lavished money on their mulatto 
children for whom money was deposited in the banks of 
Cincinnati. 52 The Randolph slaves, numbering 385, were 
liberated by the will of John Randolph of Virginia and 
settled in Ohio. Their settlement, in Mercer County, was 
opposed by the whites, and they were compelled to move to 
a camp near the towns of Piqua and Troy. It seems that 
they never obtained possession of any of the land which was 
supposed to have been purchased for them. 53 

Having considered the origin and growth of the free 
Negro population and its distribution in certain character- 
istic areas, we turn now to the story of those families which 
took root in these communities and developed an institu- 
tional character. 

In 1830 we find the free Negro families, which had largely 
become concentrated in certain areas, enjoying, in the South 
at least, their greatest prosperity. We are indebted to the 

& Documents, "Concerning the Origin of Wilberforce," Journal of Negro 
History, VIII, 335~37- 

Letter to Dr. Robert E. Park from an investigator in Ohio seeking in- 
formation concerning the Randolph slaves, Journal of Negro History, VII, 
207-11. The following news item concerning the Randolph slaves is from 
the New Orleans (La.) Commercial Times, July 10, 1846 (Phillips, op. cit., 
II, 143): 


Three hundred and eighty-five manumitted slaves, freed by the will of the late John Ran- 
dolph, of Roanoke, passed through Cincinnati, on the ist instance, on their way to Mercer 
County, Ohio, where a large tract of land is provided for their future homes. The Times, of 
that city, understands that the law of that State, known as the Black Law, requiring every 
colored person coming into the country to give security not to become a public charge, will be 
rigidly put in force, in this instance. Judging from the proceedings of a late public meeting in 
Mercer County, we imagine this to be true. 

One of the descendants told the writer recently that they had been unsuccess- 
ful in their latest attempt to recover title to this land. 


researches of Dr. Woodson for the names of the heads and 
the number of persons in these families. 54 This information 
provides a basis for the study of the families in the different 
communities in which we find free Negroes. A glance at 
Map III shows that the comparatively small number of free 
families in Georgia were concentrated in Savannah and 
Augusta. An enumeration in 1819 of free Negroes in Rich- 
mond County, in which Augusta is located, gave the names, 
ages, and occupations of the 194 free persons of color. 55 
Although these persons were not recorded according to fami- 
lies, their names and ages, as well as the order in which they 
appeared, enable one to determine to some extent family 
groups. We have already seen how these persons were em- 
ployed. 56 In most cases the wife, as well as the husband, 
was employed. Eleven years later the total number of free 
Negroes had been reduced to 172, and they were recorded in 
the census for 1830 as members of thirty- two family groups, 
an average of 5.3 persons to each family. A striking fact 
about these thirty-two families was that a woman was the 
head in twenty cases. The predominance of female heads 
as well as the decrease in numbers may have been due to the 
attempted insurrection in 1819. By a comparison of the 
names we have been able to identify ten in the list of heads 
of families in 1830 who were either heads of families in 1819 
or children in these families. When the large number of fam- 
ilies with female heads is considered in relation to the fact 
that in 1860 there were 325 mulattoes among the 490 free 

54 Free Heads of Families in the United States in 1830. In some cases slaves 
held by the free Negroes were counted as part of the family. 

" Official register of free persons of color in Richmond County, 1819, 
printed in the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, March 13, 1819, in Phillips, op. cit., 
I, 143-47- 

56 See above, p. 194. 


Negroes enumerated for this county, it does not seem un- 
reasonable to conclude that in many cases white men were 
the fathers of the children. We know that in one case the 
association acquired a permanent character. Among the 
children of this association there is a distinguished educator 
whose sisters became teachers and social workers, and whose 
children are finding a conspicuous place in the Negro world. 
One of the most distinguished and forceful bishops in the 
African Methodist Episcopal church came of a free family 
residing in Abbeville County. Bishop Turner's biographer 
gives the following account of the former's ancestry : 

Henry M. Turner was born February ist, 1834, near Newberry, 
Abbeville, South Carolina, of free parentage. While he was not a slave, 
he was subject to slave environments. Ownership in himself, only, 

He was the grandson on his mother's side of an African Prince, 
who was brought to this country in the latter part of the Eighteenth 
Century and held in Slavery, but was soon afterward set free, because 
South Carolina at that time was a part of a British Colony, and it was 
contrary to British law to enslave royal blood; hence the freedom of 
this young Prince was accorded. 

David Greer, the illustrious sire of this still more illustrious de- 
scendant, not being able to procure passage back to his native country, 
married a free woman near Abbeville, and planned to make this his 
home. To this union, aside from many other children, Sarah, his 
youngest daughter, was born, whom Hardy Turner wooed and 
wedded. From this union came Henry McNeal Turner, their first 
born, February i, i834. S7 

The tradition of royal ancestry in this family probably 
has no greater claim to historical accuracy than the same 

s' Henry M. Turner, Life and Times of Henry M. Turner (Atlanta, 1917), 
p. 33. In Woodson's List of Free Negro Heads of Families in 1830, p. 155, 
there is a David Gryer listed in Abbeville County, South Carolina, as head 
of a family of six. He is probably a son of the David Greer in the foregoing 
account of Bishop Turner's grandfather. 


tradition in many other families. 58 However, Turner's free 
ancestors seemingly enjoyed the same opportunities which 
other free Negroes had for advancement. Bishop Turner 
was taught to read and write by a white woman who took 
a special interest in him. The law against the instruction of 
Negroes in South Carolina stopped his education, and, al- 
though his mother moved to another town and employed a 
white teacher, a threat of imprisonment again arrested his 
intellectual development. According to his biographer it was 
this disappointment that embittered "his mind against the 
haters of his race and had much to do with the contempt 
which he showed in after years for those who opposed the 
progress of his people. " S9 

From what we have already learned concerning the eco- 
nomic status and general culture of the free Negroes of 
Charleston, it is not surprising that family life among a 
large group of them reached a high level of development. 
Before the Civil War some of these families had already ac- 
quired an institutional character. The stability and pres- 
tige of these families rested mainly upon the property which 
they were able to accumulate. This property often included 
slaves. Status in the free colored community was deter- 
mined by the standing of the families. These families were 
intensely conscious of their superior status and took pride 
in their mixed blood, which marked them off from the great 
mass of black slaves. This was especially true of the free 
colored people who were descendants of the refugees from 
San Domingo during the revolution in the eighteenth cen- 
tury. The family of a prominent minister in a northern city, 

58 Cf . chap. i. Catterall's work does not include any case in which a slave 
had been emancipated because of his royal blood, 
s? H. M. Turner, op. cit., p. 34. 


who has played a conspicuous part in Negro life, may be 
taken as representative of this class. The grandfather of 
this minister was the older of two brothers born in Charles- 
ton in 1798 and 1802. Their father was a refugee from San 
Domingo. The brothers, like other members of this class, 
were of Indian and French descent. In 1816 the older 
brother married the daughter of a wealthy planter, who 
gave his daughter a plantation and slaves as a dowry. Partly 
because of this dowry the son-in-law became a prosperous 
merchant in the city. The minister still has a deed of sale 
of a slave woman and her two children to his grandfather's 
brother in 1826. His grandfather was listed in the census 
of 1830 as the owner of five slaves; while in 1860 he was 
listed as an Indian among the colored taxpayers of Charles- 

In the history of another family among the free colored 
people of Charleston we can trace in greater detail the his- 
tory of the family from the time of the initial white mixture. 
Our informant, a leader of the colored women in South 
Carolina, says concerning the origin of her family : 

My great grandmother's father was a German scientist who came 
to this country and settled in Charleston. I don't know the history 
of her mother. I think her mother came from the West Indies. My 
great grandmother received an unusual education from her father. 

My daughter, H , is named for her great grandmother, H 

S . My great grandmother had a school for free colored people 

before the Civil War and taught in the first free colored school estab- 
lished in Charleston after the War. 60 

This great-grandmother, who was married to a man of 
French-Huguenot descent, had a son whose estate was listed 
among the free colored taxpayers in Charleston in 1860. 

60 Manuscript document. 


This son married, as was customary among the families of 
the free class, into one of the old free families that were 
listed as free as far back as 1830. Our informant's father, 
who was born in Charleston in 1845, of a Scotchman and a 
mulatto woman, remarked that he was only able to marry 
into this family because he had succeeded in accumulating 
property. The fact that our informant's aunt occupies a 
home on land which has been in the family since 1805 is an 
indication of stability of this family. Personal property in 
the form of a Swiss watch one hundred and fifty years old, 
which has been given to the oldest son in each generation, 
handmade silver spoons, and a hand-carved mahogany table 
have become symbols of the continuity of the traditions in 
this family. 

Deserving mention are three other families in this group. 
There were the Westons, who were probably the wealthiest 
family among the free colored people. 61 Then, there was the 
family of Henry Fordham, one of the taxpayers in 1860, 
whose son, a lieutenant of police from 1874 to 1896, married 
into the Weston family. 62 The third family, the Holloways, 
who trace their family back to free people of color under 
George III, still have the home which has been occupied 
continuously by the members of the family since 1807. 

In New Orleans and its environment there was, as previ- 
ously indicated, a large community of free Negro families 
similar in some respects to those in Charleston. But, on the 
whole, the traditions of free families in Louisiana were differ- 
ent from the traditions of the Negroes and colored people in 
other parts of the country. The infusion of white blood, 

61 Booker T. Washington, The Story of the Negro (New York, 1909), I, 206. 

63 Theodore D. Jervey, The Slave Trade, Slavery and Color (Columbia, 
S.C., 1925), p. 227. 


which began at a very early date, was due to the association 
between the Spanish and French settlers and Negro and 
Indian women. Because the Latin was inclined to accord the 
mixed-bloods a higher status than the blacks from whom 
they were differentiated culturally, this group acquired the 
position of an intermediate caste. According to Bienville, 
the scarcity of white women in Louisiana caused the early 
Canadian settlers to run "in the woods after Indian girls. " 63 
Apparently for the same reason, association with Negro 
women began on a large scale at an early date. Sometime 
later Paul Alliot, who was seemingly annoyed because mu- 
lattoes and Negroes were protected by the government, ob- 
served that the wives and daughters of the mixed-bloods 
were "much sought after by white men, and white women 
at times esteem well built men of color." 64 Perrin du Lac, 
however, attempted to place the blame chiefly on Spaniards 
for the intimacy with the Negroes: 

About one-quarter of the whites are Spaniards, generally from the 
province of Catalonia. Poor, lazy, and dirty beyond expression, that 
people mingle indiscriminately with the blacks, free or slave, and are 
intimate with them in a manner dangerous to the colony. Those 
blacks, accustomed to be treated as equals or as friends, are most in- 
clined to depart from the respect with which it is so important to in- 
spire them for the whites. 65 

In 1785 the free colored people in Louisiana numbered 
I j33' 66 The early sumptuary restrictions on this class were 
made untenable when its numbers were augmented by 
thousands of fairly well-to-do and cultured mulatto refugees 

6 J Arthur W. Calhoun, A Social History of the American Family (Cleve- 
land, 1917-18), I, 331. 

64 James A. Robertson (tr.), Louisiana under the Rule of Spain, France, 
and the United States, 1785-1807 (Cleveland, 1911), I, 71. 

6 * Ibid., p. 150, n. 4. w Ibid., p. 149. 


from Haiti who settled in New Orleans. 67 By the time of the 
Louisiana Purchase, this group had become an important 
enough element in the population to protest against not 
participating in a memorial to Congress concerning the sta- 
tus of the colonists under the new government. 68 During the 
defense of New Orleans against the British in 1814 the free 
people of color achieved considerable recognition because 
of their conduct on that occasion. 69 

In many of the free colored families in New Orleans before 
the Civil War, the family traditions went back to the soldiers 
who served in the War of 1812. The careers of representa- 
tives of these families have been described by Desdunes, 
who belonged to that class. Concerning Paul Trevigne, born 
in 1825 and whose father was a veteran of the war, he writes : 

During his youth Trevigne received a thorough and careful educa- 
tion. He became a teacher, a position in which he served for forty 
years in the Third District of New Orleans. Paul Trevigne spoke and 
wrote several languages and was the imtimate friend of men of su- 
perior education Several of his students became officers in the 

Union Army where they distinguished themselves for their intelli- 
gence and bravery. 70 

Another, Eugene Warbourg, who was born in New Or- 
leans about the same year and died in Rome in 1861, was 
a sculptor. 71 Among the men who succeeded in industry 
was George Alces, who employed more than two hundred 
colored Creoles in his tobacco establishment. 73 Probably one 

67 Grace King, New Orleans: The Place and the People (New York, 1928), 
P- 342. 

68 Robertson, op. cit., II, 279. 

69 George W. Williams, History of the Negro Race in America (New York, 
1882), II, 23-27- 

70 R. L. Desdunes, Nos hommes et noire histoire (Montreal, 1911), p. 90. 

71 Ibid. t p. 95. 7a Ibid., p. 123. 


of the best known of these free men of color was Thorny 
Lafon, for whom a school in New Orleans was named, be- 
cause of his philanthropies. He distributed his wealth among 
white and black, Protestant and Catholic. In recognition of 
his humanitarian interests the state legislature ordered his 
bust to be set up in one of the public institutions of the 
city. 73 

The development of family life on an institutional basis 
was closely tied up with the accumulation of property in 
these families. It reached its highest development among 
those classes which had acquired considerable wealth and 
achieved marked stability among the petite bourgeoisie and 
the skilled artisans. In both cases the name and the tradi- 
tions of the family were associated with male ancestors. The 
following is an excellent account of this class in 1830: 

By 1830, some of these gens de couleur had arrived at such a degree 
of wealth as to own cotton and sugar plantations with numerous 
slaves. They educated their children, as they had been educated, in 
France. Those who chose to remain there, attained, many of them, 
distinction in scientific and literary circles. In New Orleans they be- 
came musicians, merchants, and money and real estate brokers. The 
humbler classes were mechanics; they monopolized the trade of shoe- 
makers, a trade for which, even to this day, they have a special voca- 
tion; they were barbers, tailors, carpenters, upholsterers. They were 
notably successful hunters and supplied the city with game. As 
tailors, they were almost exclusively patronized by the elite, so much 
so that the Legoasters', the Dumas', the Clovis', and Lacroix', ac- 
quired individually fortunes of several hundred thousands of dollars. 
This class was most respectable; they generally married women of 
their own status, and led lives quiet, dignified and worthy, in homes 
of ease and comfort. A few who had reached a competency sufficient 
for it, attempted to settle in France, where there was no prejudice 
against their origin; but in more than one case the experiment was 

7 * King, op. a/., p. 353; see also Desdunes, op. cit., p. 123, and Journal of 
Negro History, VII, 220-21. 


not satisfactory, and they returned to their former homes in Louisi- 

In fact, the quadroons of Louisiana have always shown a strong 
local attachment, although in the state they were subjected to griev- 
ances, which seemed to them unjust, if not cruel. It is true, they pos- 
sessed many of the civil and legal rights enjoyed by the whites, as to 
the protection of person and property; but they were disqualified 
from political rights and social equality. But .... it is always to be 
remembered that in their contact with white men, they did not as- 
sume that creeping posture of debasement nor did the whites expect 
it which has more or less been forced upon them in fiction. In fact, 
their handsome, good-natured faces seem almost incapable of despair. 
It is true the whites were superior to them, but they, in their turn, 
were superior, and infinitely superior, to the blacks, and had as much 
objection to associating with the blacks on terms of equality as any 
white man could have to associating with them. At the Orleans 
theatre they attended their mothers, wives, and sisters in the second 
tier, reserved exclusively for them, and where no white person of 
either sex would have been permitted to intrude. But they were not 
admitted to the quadroon balls, and when white gentlemen visited 
their families it was the accepted etiquette for them never to be 
present. 74 

The latter part of this account refers to the recognized 
system of concubinage or plaqage which existed alongside 
of the moral and juridic family. A writer reflecting upon 
these extralegal family groups has observed that these 
quadroon women "were, in regard to family purity, domes- 
tic peace, and household dignity, the most insidious and the 
deadliest foes a community ever possessed. " 7S On the other 
hand, a visitor to New Orleans in the fifties, looking at the 
system more dispassionately, regarded it as "a very peculiar 
and characteristic result of the prejudices, vices, and cus- 

'*From unpublished manuscript of Charles Gayarre in King, op. cit. } 
pp. 344-46. 

75 King, op. tit., p. 348. 


toms of the various elements of color, class, and nation, 
which have been there brought together." 76 In fact, the sys- 
tem of plaqage was an accommodation to the legal prescrip- 
tion against intermarriage between white men and these 
colored women, who were admitted by all observers to be 
superior generally in grace, beauty, and culture to the white 
women. At the quadroon balls, to which only white men 
were admitted, the quadroon women were under the chaper- 
onage of their mothers. The manner in which the men and 
women became associated in the extramoral family groups 
was described by Olmsted as follows: 

When a man makes a declaration of love to a girl of this class, 
she will admit or deny, as the case may be, her happiness in receiving 
it; but, supposing she is favorably disposed, she will usually refer the 
applicant to her mother. The mother inquires, like a Countess of 
Kew, into the circumstances of the suitor; ascertains whether he is 
able to maintain a family, and, if satisfied with him, in these and other 
respects, requires from him security that he will support her daughter 
in a style suitable to the habits she has been bred to, and that, if he 
should ever leave her, he will give her a certain sum for her future 
support, and a certain additional sum for each of the children she 
shall then have. 77 

The daughters of these quadroon women followed in some 
cases the pattern set by their mothers. Others entered con- 
ventional marriages and went to France to live, where their 
status was not affected by their Negro blood. Since the 
stigma of Negro blood was always an incentive to become 
identified with the whites, some passed into the white race 
by migrating to other sections of the country or freed their 
children of the stigma of Negro blood by bribing officials to 

? 6 Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard States in the Year 
1853-1854 (New York, 1904), II, 243. 
" Ibid., p. 244. 


omit the designation from their baptismal certificates. As 
New Orleans grew, other mulattoes, becoming lost in the 
anonymity of the city, even passed over into the white race 
in the city of their birth. On the other hand, the offspring 
of these extramoral associations often established conven- 
tional families and thereby became a part of the free colored 
caste. Inherited wealth and superior education and culture 
made them eligible to membership in this class which was 
sharply differentiated from the mass of Negroes. 

Most of the free Negro families in North Carolina (Map 
III) were located in the Piedmont and coastal regions. How- 
ever, in this state as in other states the free families were 
found in considerable numbers in the towns and cities. In 
Fayetteville in 1830 there were eighty free Negro families. 
It was in this city that Henry Evans, a full-blooded free 
Negro, planted Methodism. 78 Another free Negro who be- 
came well known as a preacher long before the Civil War 
was John Chavis. Concerning his life, Bassett writes: 

He was, probably, born in Granville County, near Oxford, about 
1763. He was a full-blooded negro of dark brown color. He was born 
free. In early life he attracted the attention of the whites, and he was 
sent to Princeton College to see if a negro would take a collegiate edu- 
cation. He was a private pupil under the famous Dr. Witherspoon, 
and his ready acquisition of knowledge soon convinced his friends 
that the experiment would issue favorably. After leaving Princeton 
he went to Virginia, sent thither, no doubt, to preach to the negroes. 
In 1801 he was at the Hanover (Virginia) Presbytery, "riding as a 
missionary under the direction of the General Assembly. " In 1805, 
at the suggestion of Rev. Henry Patillo, of North Carolina, he re- 
turned to his native State. For some cause, I know not what, it was 
not till 1809 that he was received as a licentiate by the Orange Pres- 
bytery He continued to preach till in 1831 the Legislature for- 

7 8 John Spencer Bassett, Slavery in the State of North Carolina (Baltimore, 
1899), pp. 57-58. 


bade negroes to preach. It was a trial to him and he appealed to the 
Presbytery. That body could do nothing more than recommend him 
"to acquiesce in the decision of the Legislature referred to, until God 
in his providence shall open to him a path of duty in regard to the 
exercise of his ministry." Acquiesce he did. He died in 1838 and the 
Presbytery continued to his widow the pension which it had formerly 
allowed him. 

Mr. Chavis' most important work was educational. Shortly after 
his return to North Carolina he opened a classical school, teaching in 
Granville, Wake, and Chatham Counties. His school was for the 
patronage of the whites. Among his patrons were the best people 
of the neighborhood. Among his pupils were Willie P. Mangum, his 
brother, Archibald and John Henderson, sons of Chief Justice Hender- 
son, Charles Manly, afterwards Governor of the State, Dr. James L. 
Wortham of Oxford, N.C., and many more excellent men who did not 
become so distinguished in the communities. Rev. James H. Horner, 
one of the best teachers of high schools the State has produced, said 
of John Chavis: "My father not only went to school to him but 

boarded in his family The school was the best at that time to be 

found in the State." 

One of the most successful free Negroes in North Carolina 
before the Civil War was Lunsford Lane, who was born a 
slave in Raleigh in 1803. 8o His mother was a house servant 
in the family of an owner of a plantation, while his father 
was owned by another slaveholder. He says he became con- 
cious of his slave status when he began to work. As the re- 
sult of opportunities to earn money the idea entered his 
mind that he might buy his freedom. He realized this ambi- 
tion through money which he was able to accumulate from 
the manufacture and sale of pipes and tobacco of a peculiar 
flavor. After purchasing his own freedom for $1,000, he 
bought his wife and children for $2,50x5. As a result of a 

"Ibid., pp. 73-75. 

80 Lunsford Lane, The Narrative of Lunsford Lane, Formerly of Raleigh, 
N. C. (Boston, 1842). 


visit to the North, he was charged with violating the law 
against the entrance of free Negroes from other states. When 
he sought permission to return and pay the remainder on his 
family, the governor informed Lane's white friends that, 
although he had no authority to grant such permission, it 
would be safe for Lane to come quietly and leave as soon as 
possible. In fact, one white friend implied in a letter that 
the time was propitious because the people were "alive .... 
on the subjects of temperance and religion." 81 This, how- 
ever, did not prevent his arrest on the unfounded charge 
of having delivered abolition speeches in Massachusetts. He 
was ordered out of the city, but a mob made it necessary to 
place him in a jail for safekeeping. Upon his release, he was 
tarred and feathered by a mob of workingmen who were 
satisfied with inflicting some form of humiliation. After he 
had settled for his family and was prepared to leave, his 
mother's mistress, affected by the separation of Lane from 
his mother, permitted her to accompany the family. 

During the autumn of 1897, Bassett by chance noticed 
at a Negro fair in North Carolina a placard which read: 
"Horses Owned and Exhibited by Lunsford Lane." Ap- 
proaching a Negro farmer, he asked: "Who is Lunsford 

"I am, sir," was the reply. 

"What kin are you to the original Lunsford Lane?" 
"Don't exactly know, sir; reckon he was my uncle." 
"What became of him?" questioned Bassett in order to 
draw him out. 

"Think he must V emigrated," the man answered. 82 

81 Ibid., pp. 35-36. 

82 Bassett, Anti-slavery Leaders of North Carolina (Baltimore, 1898), p. 74. 
Speaking of the effect upon the development of the Negro of the laws which 
made it impossible for free Negroes of Lane's type to remain in the South, 


Although Lane apparently failed to establish a family 
line, there were other free colored men who became the 
fountainhead of family traditions that have persisted to the 
present day. Two of these families originated among the 
free colored people of Fayetteville. Charles W. Chestnut, 
the distinguished Negro novelist, who died in 1932 in Cleve- 
land, was a descendant of one of these families. Concerning 
another free family which has a descendant who is at pres- 
ent a dentist in Wilmington, North Carolina, Booker Wash- 
ington wrote: 

A coloured man by the name of Matthew Leary is still remembered 
in Fayetteville who, before the war, was the owner of considerable 
land, a number of slaves, a brick store in the business part of the 
town, and a handsome residence in a good neighborhood. His sons 
gained some prominence in North Carolina during the Reconstruc- 
tion era. Matthew Leary, Jr., went into politics and afterward be- 
came a clerk in one of the Government offices in Washington. A 
younger brother, Hon. John S. Leary, was the first coloured man in 
North Carolina to be admitted to the bar, of which he remained a 
respected member until he died at Charlotte, N.C. He was, I under- 
stand, at one time a member of the North Carolina Legislature. 8 * 

Bassett says: "The little glimpse that we have of his real self shows what 
a promise of hope he was for the race he represented. We know enough to be 
certain that it was a most short-sighted policy in his State that drove him 
and a number of others out of the community, and made impossible the 
development of other negroes like unto him. Since the war we have sadly 
missed such strong characters in our negro population. Twenty-five years 
before the war there were more industrious, ambitious and capable negroes 
in the South than there were in 1865. Had the severe laws against emancipa- 
tion and free negroes not been passed, the coming of freedom would have 
found the colored race with a number of superior individuals who in every 
locality would have been a core of conservatism for the benefit of both races. 
Under such conditions Lane would have been of great beneficent influence" 

8 J Op. cit., pp. 203-4. There was a Matthew Leary, returned as head of 
a family of seven, in the census for 1830 (Woodson, Free Negro Heads of 
Families, p. 114). 


Likewise, another free colored man, James D. Sampson, 
who accumulated some wealth and published a paper in 
Cincinnati during the Civil War, became the head of a fam- 
ily line in which members of three generations have com- 
pleted Oberlin College. The fourth free family which has 
maintained a continuous history to the present time is that 
of John R. Green, who was born in Newbern. 84 His son, 
the historian of the family, was still practicing law in Cleve- 
land in 1933, while his grandchildren are members of the 
professional group in that city. 

Space will permit only a brief account of one of the free 
families in Virginia which have had an uninterrupted history 
from the early nineteenth century. The earliest ancestor 
concerning whom we have any historical record was prob- 
ably born during the American Revolution in Petersburg. 
However, according to Jackson, who has given us a history 
of the family, 

our first real knowledge of him comes in 1804, when, for the sum of 
forty-five pounds, he purchased from Hector McNeil, a white mer- 
chant of Petersburg, "one certain piece of parcel of land situate, 
lying and being in the town of Petersburg aforesaid, on the east side 
of the street known and distinguished in the plan of the said town by 
the name of Union Street." In 1820 this property, consisting of house 
and lot, was valued at $1,050. In the meantime he had also bought 
one lot on Oak Street, which was assessed at $131.25. This James 
Colson becomes the head of a remarkable line of descendants. When 
he died, in 1825, his property was taken over by his son, William 
Colson. The son in his early years was a barber in Petersburg, but a 
few years after his marriage to Sarah Elebeck, in 1826, he emigrated 
to Liberia in connection with the colonization movement of that time. 

84 A John R. Green, head of a family of ten, was returned as free for the 
1830 census (Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families, p. 113). See complete 
history of family in John P. Green, Fact Stranger than Fiction (Cleveland, 


In Liberia he engaged in a mercantile enterprise with Joseph Jenkins, 
who, too, came from Petersburg. 

William Colson was the father of three children, William, Mary, 
and James Major. The last of these particularly comes easily within 
the memory of Petersburg citizens living today. He was born in 1830 
and died in 1892. James Major is to be remembered especially as a 
fine shoemaker, whose patrons included most of the prominent people 
of the town. It is said that his skill at shoe making extended to the 
point where he could make a shoe to fit the special needs of a sore foot. 

James Major Colson was married in 1852 to a free woman of color, 
Fannie Meade Boiling. His wife naturally was primarily a homemaker, 
but at the same time her literary attainments were manifested in her 
production of poetry throughout her long life. This lady came along 
during the period of the hostile legislation against the education of 
free Negroes. She learned to read and write at odd moments while in 
the employ of a white family that took great care that she should 
put her lessons aside in the event that company or strangers came 
into the home. Thus her very employers, regardless of the law, helped 
make it possible for her to acquire the rudiments of learning. Immedi- 
ately after the war she put her knowledge to good use by taking the 
initiative in starting a private school on Oak Street in Petersburg. 85 

Among the numerous children of James Major Colson 
and Fannie Meade Colson, there were nine three boys and 
six girls who reached adult age. Six members of this family 
became teachers, while two of the boys entered other occu- 
pations, and one of the girls became a registered nurse. One 
of the boys, James Major III, who was born in 1855, re- 
ceived the Phi Beta Kappa key when he completed Dart- 
mouth College. He served as a school principal and for 
awhile was president of the Negro college in Petersburg. 
When he died in 1909, he left his family a considerable 
amount of real estate. 

Excluded from our discussion here are the free families 

8 * Luther P. Jackson, "Free Negroes of Petersburg, Virginia," Journal of 
Negro History, XII, 372-77- 


in the cities of the North and the Northwest Territory, or 
the more or less isolated communities of free colored fami- 
lies, which were mixed to a considerable extent with In- 
dians. Many of the free colored families in the northern 
cities and Northwest Territory had migrated from southern 
communities. Later we shall see how these families formed 
the nuclei of the higher social and economic classes in both 
northern and southern communities. But, instead of follow- 
ing the career of these families, we shall turn our attention 
to those communities of free families that were mixed with 



Although the free mulatto families have had a history 
different from the mass of the Negro population, they have, 
nevertheless, gradually become identified more or less with 
the Negro group and furnished many of its leaders. In this 
respect they may be distinguished from those families of 
white, Negro, and Indian ancestry, living in isolated com- 
munities in various parts of the country, that have remained 
outside the main currents of Negro life. Whereas the free 
mulatto families and their descendants have generally 
formed an upper class in the Negro group, the families that 
have formed these isolated communities of mixed-bloods 
have often regarded themselves as an altogether different 
race. In some instances their consciousness of being a dif- 
ferent race from the Negro has expressed itself in the naive 
reference to themselves as "a different kind of folk/' while 
in other instances tradition has established their group iden- 
tity under some such name as Creoles, Moors, or some cor- 
rupted Indian name of unknown origin. Moreover, so strong 
has been their determination to remain a distinct group that 
they have often permitted their children to grow up illiterate 
rather than send them to the public schools provided for 

The history of the Pamunky Tribe of Indians in Virginia 
is typical of those communities of mixed-bloods which, hav- 
ing originated in the association between Indians and Ne- 
groes, gradually lost their Indian character. As early as 



1843 the white citizens of King William County petitioned 
the state legislature: 

The object of the colonial assembly was to protect a few harmless 
and tributary Indians, but the law which was passed to secure the 
Indians from intrusion on the part of the same white inhabitants has 
unwittingly imposed upon the posterity of the same white inhabitants 
a great grievance, in the presence of two unincorporated bodies of 
free mulattoes in the midst of a large slaveholding community. A 
greater grievance of such character cannot be well conceived, when 
it is known that a large number of free Negroes and mulattoes now 
enjoy under a law enacted for a praiseworthy purpose peculiar and 
exclusive privileges such as an entire exemption from taxation, hold- 
ing land without liability for debt, and the land so held properly speak- 
ing public land belonging to the Commonwealth The claim of the 

Indians no longer exists His blood has so largely mingled with 

that of the Negro race as to have obliterated all striking features of 
Indian extraction. 1 

Although we have historical evidence concerning the ori- 
gin of other mixed communities, 2 in most instances we must 
rely upon the traditions which have been handed down in 
the communities concerning the Indian and white progeni- 
tors. Let us take as an example the mixed community near 
Indian Mound, Tennessee, which has all but vanished. 

In order to reach the dwelling-place of the seven living 

1 Legislative Petitions, Archives of Virginia, King William County, 1843. 
Quoted in J. H. Johnston, "Documentary Evidence of the Relations of 
Negroes and Indians/ 1 Journal of Negro History, XIV, 29-30. 

a An investigator reported in 1861 concerning the Punkapog Indian Tribe 
in Massachusetts: "The full-blood Indians of the tribe are all extinct. Their 
descendants, who, like those of all other tribes in States, are of various grades 
of mixtures, of Indian, white, and Negro blood" (Documents Printed by Order 
of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during the Session of the 
Grand Court, 1861, No. 96, p. 10. Quoted in C. G. Woodson, "The Relations 
of Negroes and Indians in Massachusetts," Journal of Negro History, V, 50). 
See also Joshua R. Giddings, The Exiles of Florida (Columbus, Ohio, 1858), 
concerning the association between Negroes and Indians in Florida. 


grandchildren of the founder of the community, the author 
and his secretary had to leave the broad highways. We 
traveled country roads and drove over a muddy lane and 
through a half-dried-up creek. As we emerged from a thickly 
wooded area, an old but substantial house covered with cor- 
rugated iron suddenly appeared in the clearing. From the 
covered porch of the house a white-haired man with a great 
beard came to the gate to greet us. His bronze skin and 
granite-like features offered scarcely a suggestion of Negro 
ancestry. In fact, later, when he gave a well-chronicled 
story of the origin and history of his family, he made no 
mention of Negro blood. 

When we were ushered into the house, which had been 
standing over a century, we felt that we had suddenly been 
transported back to the pioneer days of the first half of the 
nineteenth century. About a wide fireplace in which huge 
logs were burning sat five old women ranging in age from 
seventy-three to ninety-one. They were dressed in wide and 
full-gathered skirts and high shoes with flat heels, while 
about their shoulders they wore pieces of flannel for shawls. 
Three of them had rags about their heads. One of the sisters 
was blind, and another found it difficult to recognize stran- 
gers. Beside these five sisters sat their eighty-eight-year-old 
brother bent with age. The features and color of all of them 
showed striking signs of Indian ancestry. 

The remarkably agile seventy-six-year-old brother, who 
conducted us into the house and introduced us to his brother 
and sisters, recited the history of the family. As he told the 
story during this visit and a subsequent one, he was cor- 
roborated or corrected by his sisters, especially the youngest, 
who appealed to the oldest sister from time to time for 
confirmation of her statements. 


The oldest ancestor of whom they had any knowledge was their 
great-grandfather who lived in North Carolina. His son, of Irish and 
Indian mixture, migrated from North Carolina about 1803. After 
first settling in Rutherford County, he moved to the present location 
and took up land. It was because of this fact, they presumed, "land" 
was added to the family name. He was married twice the first wife 
being assuredly an Indian and the second presumably of the same 
race. "Our color just came from the Cherokee race. We have no 
Negro blood in us." By his first wife he had eight children and by his 
second four. He was a Primitive Baptist. When he died around 1865, 
he left his land about three-hundred acres to his children. 

Our informants were able to give a fairly detailed account 
of four generations of the descendants of the founder of the 
community. Four of his eight children by his first wife were 
never married. The four remaining brothers and sisters had 
at least thirty-six children, nearly half-a-hundred grandchil- 
dren, and an unknown number of great-grandchildren. The 
daughter of the original settler by his second wife the only 
one of the four children to marry was the mother of nine 
children and numbered among her descendants more than a 
score of grandchildren. Our informants, who were the only 
surviving children of the founder's eighth child, had never 
married. Although two families representing the younger 
generation lived by and administered to their needs, these 
seven brothers and sisters were the real guardians of the 
ancestral homestead. 

The picture so far presented of these ancient remnants 
of a once great clan gives one no idea of the traditions and 
ideals which have placed an indelible imprint upon the lives 
of its scattered representatives. The imprint of these tradi- 
tions and ideals was visible in a family living on their own 
farm less than five miles from the original settlement. The 
father and mother had the same family name, their grand- 


fathers having been sons of the original settler. The parents 
as well as their two children, a boy and a girl, looked more 
like Indians than Negroes or mulattoes. Their comfortable 
and well-furnished house was characteristic of the thrift, 
intelligence, and stability for which this group of mixed- 
bloods are noted. The father, who was the responsible head 
of the family, not only worked on his farm but supervised 
the work of white farm laborers. Although neither father 
nor mother had completed high school, they took a daily 
paper and one or two magazines and had plans for their 
children to get a college education. 

This family, together with another family which was more 
definitely bound to the community, formed the last link 
between the almost vanished community and its scattered 
members in the world outside. Over the years, family after 
family had moved to Ohio, Illinois, and cities in Tennessee. 
Although the original settler's great-granddaughter re- 
marked: "The X's don't do much corresponding, but we 
don't forget each other/' the old solidarity which was cele- 
brated in family reunions has been broken. The last family 
reunion, which was held in 1917 on the hundredth birthday 
anniversary of a daughter of the original settler, was at- 
tended only by the descendants living in Tennessee. 

From what was learned of those who had gone beyond the 
borders of Tennessee, it appeared that they, like those 
who had remained within the state, were industrious and 
well disciplined. In both their religion and their morals they 
reflected the simple faith and the strict teachings of the 
older generation, whose seven living representatives still 
hold prayer meeting every Wednesday night and church on 
Sunday with one brother acting as the preacher. Although 
this close-knit clan, which was at the same time an isolated 


religious community, has slowly disintegrated, pride in fam- 
ily still stirs the younger as well as the older generations. 
One source of family pride was the fact that no member had 
ever been arrested or had otherwise brought disgrace upon 
the family name. However, it should not be inferred that 
this modest achievement appeared to them as a great ac- 
complishment, for they maintained that they could only 
boast of the simple human virtues. With a single exception 
the members of the family had followed humble occupations 
and were known for their thrift and honesty. They had no 
apologies to make for the fact that only one member of the 
family was ever known to have finished college. This ex- 
ceptional member of the family who was known only vaguely 
to the other members of the family, had achieved some dis- 
tinction as the head of the colored division of a national wel- 
fare agency. While the attainments of this single member 
did not elicit special pride, they could boast that they kept 
in touch with the outside world through the daily paper and 
that the community had maintained a school from the be- 
ginning. Even the children in the only family that remained 
in the original settlement were instructed by their mother 
in reading and writing. 

Although our aged informants were reluctant to acknowl- 
edge that in the early history of the community there had 
been opposition to intermarriage with Negroes, this was 
apparently the reason for the failure of many of them to 
find suitable mates. The cleavage between the mixed-bloods 
and the whites had been widened in the early history of the 
community when a minister of the white church made a 
remark about dark people attending the church. After this 
incident the mixed-bloods established a church of their own 
and ceased to bury their dead in the white cemetery. When 


the head of the family referred to above related this inci- 
dent, he hastened to add that he and his wife, who were send- 
ing their children to the Negro school in the near-by town, 
did not share the feelings of the older generation but re- 
garded themselves simply as colored people. In fact, the 
process by which this family is gradually merging with the 
Negro community shows how families from these isolated 
communities of mixed-bloods have gradually filtered into 
the Negro population. The change in attitude toward the 
Negro group has been effected in the case of this family and 
those families that migrated through contacts in the urban 
environment. Although visiting in the two cities of Tennes- 
see to which the families have moved is still restricted largely 
to the homes of relatives, friendships have been formed with 
the better- situated mulatto families. These contacts have 
been facilitated through the Negro schools, in which the 
younger generation is gradually taking over the traditions 
and culture of the Negro group. As a result of these widened 
contacts, we find an increasing number of marriages with 
Negroes; but chiefly with those of mixed ancestry. 

According to the traditions that have been preserved in 
this community, one member of the family migrated sixty 
or seventy years ago to Ohio and married into a family of 
the same racial mixture. This family evidently formed a 
part of the community of mixed-bloods in Darke County, 
Ohio, since the history of this latter community, as related 
by those living there today, includes a pioneer of Indian 
extraction who migrated from Tennessee. Like the com- 
munity in Tennessee, the settlement in Ohio originated 
through the migration of free people of Indian, white, and 
supposedly Negro ancestry from North Carolina. The oldest 


living inhabitant in the community gave the following ac- 
count of his family and the community: 

His grandfather was born free in Virginia. According to the story 
which was told by the grandfather, he was compelled to leave Vir- 
ginia when the state threatened to re-enslave all free colored people 
who did not leave the state. A white man arranged to meet the grand- 
father, who was still a boy, in Greenville, Ohio. When the grandfather 
reached Greenville, he was taken in by the white man and later took 
up 160 acres of land at $1.25 per acre. After securing enough money 
through digging wells to purchase the land, the grandfather moved his 
family to the present location in 1808. This was the first family in 
the community. 

Our next informant was the descendant of the second 
family that moved into the community. He began his story: 

Uncle Tom B has told me at different times that two of the 

B 's rode in here horseback from North Carolina and at that time 

they were offered a section of land for those two horses 640 acres 
and they didn't take that for that team. They took up a homestead 
up here, each one of them. This country then was nothing but wilder- 
ness, no roads, just woods. I don't know how long they remained on 
it and they went back to North Carolina to tell about what they dis- 
covered and what they found up here. Then they began to move and 
wind their way in here. A white man asked me up here in Greenville 
if a Randolph ever come in here and I told him no, no slave holder 
ever come in here and bought up homesteads. My father said he had 
seen wolves, bears, panthers. That well out there I expect has been 
by here for 100 years and has never been known to go dry. As those 
began to spread out then others began to come in here. They were 

born in North Carolina My grandfather, Richard B , was 

one of the original settlers of the community. Right up where that 
well is was a log house where he settled and when he came from North 
Carolina he taken up that 40 acres from the government. My father 

bought this 40 acres from a man named D G , a white man, 

who purchased this land from the government. I can remember when 

this place was about six miles square. Rev. S 's grandfather at one 

time owned 640 acres of land across where, well, across here over 


on the Indiana side. He came in here and couldn't read nor write. 
He came from North Carolina. 3 

Our first informant's racial origin was typical of other 
members of the community. When this eighty-two-year-old 
man with blue eyes, blond hair, and pinkish skin was asked 
concerning the race of his grandfather, he answered : 

Well, there is a lot of blood in our relation Indian, Scotch-Irish, 
Dutch, and a little bit nigger. Grandmother could talk Dutch just 
as fast as she could talk. My grandfather was as white and whiter as 
I was. Their mixture, they got in the South before they come here. 4 

It is not strange that people with such a racial back- 
ground should have considered themselves a different race 
from the mass of the Negro population. While it is true that, 
prior to the Civil War the community was one of the stations 
of the Underground Railroad, there was apparently scarcely 
any intermarriage with the blacks who escaped from bond- 
age. Although the present members of the community are 
hesitant about acknowledging that the blacks were not re- 
garded as eligible mates, our informant admitted that they 
"don't marry that way somehow or another." On the other 
hand, it was acknowledged by a representative of one of the 
two families showing distinctly Negro ancestry that the com- 
munity was not "so particular about real black people," 
and cited the following incident in support of her statement : 
"Once I was sitting in the church and I said to one of the 
girls that a certain one of the girls was married, and the first 
thing they said was, 'Oh, yes, she married a black man.' " s 
Moreover, there was a story current in the community that 
a minister had not accepted a promotion because his wife 
refused to go with him to a church of "black Africans." 

* Manuscript document. 

< Manuscript document. s Manuscript document. 


Nor is it to be wondered at that many of the early families 
or their descendants married or passed over into the white 
race. In some cases members of the community take some 
pride in the fact that they can point to men of distinction in 
the white world whose families were among the mixed-bloods 
that first settled in the community. Many more families and 
individuals who have passed into the white world have left 
no trace of their whereabouts; and it is possible that their 
children do not know that they probably have Negro blood 
in their veins. Seemingly, individuals among the younger 
generation are continuing to filter into the white race, for 
it is possible to trace a number of them to occupations in the 
larger cities that are ordinarily closed to Negroes. 

Although a number of the families have become merged 
with the white population, the traditions of the families in 
this settlement are bound up mainly with their achieve- 
ments as a distinct racial group and in later years with the 
attainments of those who have found a place in the Negro 
world. These traditions stem from the activities of the 
sturdy pioneers who sought freedom in an unknown country 
and built up a community of independent landowners and 
successful farmers. Speaking of one of the early settlers, one 
informant said with pride: 

If Jack C had lived about two more months he would have 

been ninety years old and many a time he started from here with his 
wheat to Cincinnati. It took him a week to make the trip no rail- 
roads and no roads. He was considered the best teamster to pull 
horses from here to Cincinnati. 

These pioneers built substantial homes and erected a 
church and a schoolhouse. A Wesleyan church, where a 
few families still gather, was built nearly a century ago. 
Before the Civil War a subscription school was maintained 


by the community, while the Quakers helped to establish a 
seminary for advanced education across the line in Indiana. 
At the present time, in two cemeteries bearing the names of 
the first two families to settle in the community, tombstones 
mark the resting-place of these pioneers and their descend- 

Although many families have migrated and whites have 
bought their farms and the younger generation especially is 
seeking its fortunes in the various cities of the North, there 
are still about sixty families in the community, including 
four families living in Indiana. Practically all these families 
are landowners, and, although the community is not so 
prosperous as formerly, their homes give evidence of eco- 
nomic well-being and a high level of rural culture. The rough 
log dwellings have long ago been replaced by large painted 
houses with shutters and glass windows. On the inside the 
walls are papered and hung with portraits of ancestors or 
pictures illustrating some biblical story. Their well-kept 
homes, with books, magazines, and a daily paper, bespeak 
the culture which has been built up in these families during 
several generations. 

There has long been a tradition of education in the com- 
munity. Before the consolidation of the local schools, there 
were five public schools, taught chiefly by members of local 
families who had received advanced training outside the com- 
munity . Unlike the families in the Tennessee community, these 
families boast of the intellectual achievements of those who 
were born there. They were able to name college and high- 
school teachers and principals and professional men and 
women, who have sprung from families in the community. 
The two outstanding examples of the community's distin- 
guished men were a Methodist bishop and a diplomatic rep- 


resentative to Liberia. But, perhaps, the man who typified 
best the role of these families in the Negro world was a 
minister who served a church in Dayton for thirty-three 
years. As a leader in the colored community, he became 
disgusted with the conditions under which Negroes lived 
and organized a realty company which enabled Negroes to 
purchase homes in desirable neighborhoods. 

There are other communities of mixed-bloods in the North 
which are similar to this one in Ohio. For example, there is 
a community in the Ramapo Hills about thirty miles north 
of New York City. Concerning the inhabitants of this com- 
munity, we shall let one of its representatives speak. She 
is a woman about forty, who, after taking the Bachelor's 
degree at Howard University, married and returned to the 
community to live. Our informant writes: 

On approaching the hills bordering the villages of Suffern and Hill- 
burn one meets a type of native people quite different from those found 
elsewhere. Some of these resemble the Indian with their copper- 
colored skin and straight black hair. Others are very fair with flaxen 
hair and blue eyes while still others are of the Negroid type although 
these latter are very much in the minority. Nor are these all. Also 
peculiar to this type of people are some having white hair and pink 
eyes, known as albinos. On becoming better acquainted with these 
albinos we find them possessed of rare skill and talent. Barnum and 
Bailey have exhibited some of this variety in their circus several 
years ago. 

More than a century ago some Boers were supposed to have been 
brought to this section by the English possibly for the purpose of 
mining iron ore. As the story goes among these Boers were four 
Johns i.e., John De Groot, John Von Doonk, John De Vries and 
John Mann. Quite positive proof of this fact are the predominating 
names among the people at the present time; i.e. De Groat, Van Dunk, 
De Freese and Mann. After a time these people were visited by 
remnants of wandering tribes of Indians; i.e., Tuscaroras and Dela- 
wares who were travelling up from the South to join others of their 


tribe in central New York State. Still later were found, in this sec- 
tion, slaves maintained by a family of Sufferns. An amalgamation 
took place between these three classes of people. A slave named Jack- 
son, was believed to have been the first of his kind to mingle with the 
others and as a result we find a type of people with certain peculiarities 
called "Jackson Whites." 6 

Among these people, as in the case of the other two 
communities, there was prejudice against mingling with 
Negroes. The father of the author of the document quoted 
above, a man seventy-five years old, said that when he was 
a young man there was strong opposition to marriage with 
Negroes and that often he had heard the girls remark that 
they wanted "only men with white skins and blue veins." 
In fact, it seems that the community was divided to some 
extent according to color. Our informant writes: 

There are in this section two distinct types of Jackson Whites 
one set of the white variety, living on the other side of Suffern, ex- 
hibit a great lack of intelligence as compared with their fellows of the 
predominating Indian and colored types. 7 

The superior intelligence of the darker group is probably 
attributable to the fact that they have tended to move from 
the isolated hills down into the valley where they have en- 
joyed the advantages of wider contacts, in spite of the fact 
that separate schools are provided for them : 

Not all of the Jackson Whites remained up in the hills. Some of 
them moved down into the valley where the new Brook Chapel be- 
came the center. In the twentieth century we find them much more 
interested in what is going on in the outside world. They regularly 
attend the Jim-crow school provided for them by the leading white 
people of Hillburn, which is the only one of its kind in New York 
State. Most of the people work in the nearby iron and steel foundries 

6 Manuscript document. This document was secured after the author 
made a visit to the community. 

7 Manuscript document. 


while some engage in other occupations which are open to their kind. 
Still others have gone into the cities of both New York and other 
states where they engage in higher occupations. Quite a number of 
the children have graduated from the nearby High School. Some have 
finished from normal schools and colleges. One went so far as to re- 
ceive his Ph.D. 8 

In the early days when these people were confined to the 
hills, they maintained themselves by hunting and fishing, 
cutting lumber, and hiring themselves to near-by farmers. 
They were evidently a deeply religious group. The little in- 
formation which is now available represents them as having 
a religion of "the Methodist type." 

For many years it was customary for them to hold singing and 
praying services at each other's homes. These were known as "class 
meetings" and each one always had a "class leader." 9 

As the result of the missionary work of the Presbyterians, 
they later became a part of that religious organization. We 
have a description of one of the religious leaders from the 
pen of his granddaughter, our informant: 

One of the most outstanding of these leaders was a remarkable 
character. He was once described as "being of almost gigantic stature, 
yet symmetrically moulded and with a head of more than Websterian 
grandeur and size." He would remind an observer of one of the priests 
of ancient Israel. The dark and solemn face, the snow-white hair hang- 
ing in abundant locks almost to his shoulders, the earnest deep tones 
of the voice, as he led the services, made a picture not soon to be for- 
gotten. This worthy sage was known to all as "Uncle Sammy De 
Freese" and his name still is uttered very reverently in the neighbor- 
hood by all including the better class of whites who knew him or 
afterward learned of him. On entering the Brook Chapel, which he 
helped build, one will find a picture of this old saint. 10 

8 Manuscript document. 

9 Manuscript document. I0 Manuscript document. 


This "old saint" belonged to an anomalous race of people 
whose descendants have become scattered through New 
Jersey and New York. 11 They have gradually taken over the 
traditions and ways of life of Negroes with whom they have 
become more or less identified. The change in the attitudes 
and traditions of this group was expressed by one of them 
as follows: 

Formerly the Jackson Whites never possessed the same pride which 
one always finds among those of the true Negro race. Nor did they 
enjoy the same things common to that race. However, in the past 
few years, since some Negroes from outside have come in and owing 
to the conditions thrust upon them by the great prejudice abounding 
in their village, they have attained some of the pride which is prevalent 
among those who are segregated and set aside from others. The better 
thinking class protest against these conditions which tend toward 
making them feel the supposed superiority of the whites of the com- 
munity. They are also fast adopting the use of Negro literature and 

Another group of mixed-bloods, whose racial identity has 
long remained an enigma, had its origin in Delaware. There 
are two traditions concerning the origin of this group. Ac- 
cording to one account, these people are the descendants of 
"Spanish Moors who, by chance had drifted from the 
southern coast of Spain prior to the Revolutionary War, and 
settled at various points on the Atlantic Coast of the British 
colonies." 13 The other tradition, which is probably closer to 

11 The Negro in New Jersey: Report of a Survey by the Interracial Commission 
of the New Jersey Conference of Social Work in Cooperation with the State De- 
partment of Institutions and Agencies, 1932, p. 22. 

" Manuscript document. 

x * The So-called Moors of Delaware: A Sketch Written by George P. Fisher 
Which Appeared as a Communication and Was Published in the Milford 
(Del.) Herald under Date of June 15, 1895. Reprinted by the Public Archives 
Commission of Delaware, 1929. 


the facts, says that they sprang from the mixture of whites, 
Indians, and Negro slaves, probably of Moorish origin. 14 
On the whole, these people have devoted themselves to 
agriculture. They have built their own homes and churches 
and have been known by their neighbors as thrifty and law- 

x < Ibid. While the author of the communication cited above was attorney- 
general of the state of Delaware, he had occasion to investigate the racial 
origin of these people. In 1857 one of them was indicted for having sold 
ammunition to another member of the same race in violation of the law 
against the selling of firearms to Negroes and mulattoes. An eighty-seven- 
year-old woman of the same race who was called as a witness gave in sub- 
stance the following testimony concerning their origin: "About fifteen or 
twenty years before the Revolutionary War, which she said broke out when 
she was a girl some five or six years old, there was a lady of Irish birth living 
on a farm in Indian River Hundred, a few miles distant from Lewes, which 
she owned and carried on herself. Nobody appeared to know anything of 
her history or antecedents. Her name she gave as Regua, and she was child- 
less, but whether a maid or widow, or a wife astray, she never disclosed to 
anyone. She was much above the average woman of that day in stature, 
beauty and intelligence. The tradition described her as having a magnificent 
complexion, or, as Lydia termed it, a rose and lily complexion, large and dark 
blue eyes and luxuriant hair of the most beautiful shade, usually called light 
auburn. After she had been living in Angola Neck quite a number of years, 
a slaver was driven into Lewes Creek, then a tolerable fair harbor, and was 

there, weather-bound for several days Miss or Mrs Regua, having heard 

of the presence of the slaver in the harbor, and having lost one of her men, 
went to Lewes, and to replace him, purchased another from the slave ship. 
She selected a very tall, shapely and muscular young fellow of dark ginger- 
bread color, who claimed to be a prince or chief of one of the tribes of the 
Congo River which had been overpowered in a war with a neighboring tribe 
and nearly all slain or made prisoners and sold into perpetual slavery. This 
young man had been living with his mistress but a few months when they 
were duly married and, as Lydia told the court and jury, they reared quite 
a large family of children, who as they grew up were not permitted to associ- 
ate and intermarry with their neighbors of pure Caucasian blood, nor were 
they disposed to seek associations or alliance with the Negro race; so that 
they were so necessarily compelled to associate and intermarry with the 
remnant of the Nanticoke tribe of Indians who still lingered in their old 
habitations for many years after the great body of the tribe had been re- 
moved further towards the setting sun." 


abiding citizens. A small community of their descendants 
has been established across the Delaware River near Bea- 
con's Neck in Cumberland County, New Jersey. Some of 
them have doubtless filtered into the white race, and at 
present others are gradually becoming merged with the 
Negro population. 

By far the most important community of mixed-bloods 
in the North, for which fortunately, we have a well-authenti- 
cated record, is the Gouldtown settlement near Bridgeton, 
New Jersey. Traditions concerning the origin of this com- 
munity go back to the end of the seventeenth century. The 
first mulattoes in this settlement are believed to have been 
the offspring of a Negro and the granddaughter of John 
Fenwick, who, having acquired from Lord Berkeley a tract 
of land in New Jersey, came to America in i6y5. IS Although 
there is no record of the life of Fenwick's granddaughter with 
her Negro husband, the Gouldtown graveyard register tells 
the location of their son and his wife. 16 The Gouldtown 
settlement included three other families of mulatto and 
Indian extraction: 

*s William and Theophilus G. Steward, Gouldtown: A Very Remarkable 
Settlement of Ancient Date (Philadelphia, 1913), pp. 50-51. "Among the 
numerous troubles and vexations which assailed Fenwick, none appear to 
have distressed him more than the base and abandoned conduct of his 
granddaughter, Elizabeth Adams, who had attached herself to a citizen of 
color. By his will he deprives her of any share in his estate, 'unless the Lord 
open her eyes to see her abominable transgression against him, me and her 
good father, by giving her true repentance and forsaking that Black which 
hath been the ruin of her and becoming penitent for her sins.' From this 
illicit connection have sprung the families of the Goulds at a settlement 
called Gouldtown, in Cumberland County. Later, this same historian in a 
memoir of John Fenwick wrote: 'Elizabeth Adams had formed a connection 
with a negro man whose name was Gould* " (R. G. Johnson, Memoir of 
John Fenwick [New Jersey Historical Society, pub. 1849]). 

16 Steward and Steward, op. cit. t pp. 51-52. 


Tradition says that the Pierces originated from two mulattoes who 
were brought here in a vessel from the West Indies, with which the 
colony had early trade, vessels from the West Indies arriving at 
Greenwich and also coming up as far as to what is now Bridgeton. 

These two men were Richard and Anthony Pierce, brothers 

Anthony and Richard Pierce paid the passage of two Dutch women, 
sisters, from Holland; their names were Marie and Hannah Van Aca. 
The last name speedily degenerated into Wanaca, and was made the 
Christian name of a son of one of them. From these descended all the 
Pierces of Gouldtown. They came to the colony of West New Jersey 
before the middle of the eighteenth century. 

The Murrays originated in Cape May; they claim an Indian an- 
cestry. The first Murray of whom there is trace in the vicinity of the 
earliest settlements of Gouldtown, was Othniel Murray. He claimed 
to be a Lenapee or Siconessee Indian, and came from Cape May 
County. The Lenapees resided in the locality of Cohansey (or Bridge- 
ton) and had quite a settlement at what became known as the Indian 
Fields, at a run still known as the Indian Field Run. This Othniel 
Murray married Katherine (last name unknown), a Swede. They had 
five children, three sons and two daughters, Mark Murray, David 
Murray, and Mary Murray and Dorcas Murray. From these de- 
scended all the Murrays of Gouldtown. 1 ? 

Another family which was of slave origin became united 
by marriage with the three original families: 

The Cuff family was of slave origin, though in a time quite remote; 
Cuff, a slave, was owned by a man named Padgett. Padgett had three 
daughters, and he, by some means, got into the Continental Army, in 
the French and Indian War, and was killed. Cuff took care of the 
widow, and she finally married him. He was called "Cuffee Padgett"; 
they had three sons, and when these went to school they were taunted 
by the other boys as being the sons of "Old Cuffee Padgett"; so they 
would have their father drop the Padgett and take the name of Cuffee 
Cuff. The names of these sons were Mordecai, Reuben, and Seth. 18 

During the early days of its existence the settlement be- 
came divided into two communities, known as Gouldtown 

Ibid., pp. 62-63. l8 Ibid., p. 113. 


and Piercetown, because of the traditions connecting them 
with the families bearing these names. This division has 
lasted to the present day, although the cause of the cleavage 
is forgotten. 19 

The outstanding tradition among the Goulds was their 
relationship to the founder of the colony. 20 Included in the 
traditions of this settlement is a record of services in all the 
wars of the nation, with the exception of the Mexican War, 
from the Revolution to the Spanish-American War. 21 Al- 
though the religious traditions 22 of this settlement were orig- 
inally different from those of the masses of Negroes who 
were chiefly influenced by the Baptists and Methodists, 
descendants of families in this settlement played a conspicu- 
ous part in the history of the African Methodist Episcopal 
church which became the chief church in this community. 
In 1816 it is recorded that Rueben Cuff of the Cuff family, 

x Ibid., pp. 64-66. 

30 One of the historians of this family writes that the "Gould's tradition 
a hundred years ago was 'We descended from Lord Fenwick.' .... The writer 
of this, now over three score and ten years of age, has heard the words from 
his grandparents, and other of the Goulds who were born and lived in the 
close of the eighteenth century' * (ibid., p. 37). 

* l lbid., pp. 154-56. Descendants of these families also served in the 
World War. 

23 "Like most others of this section of New Jersey, the inhabitants of 
Gouldtown held to the Calvinistic doctrines, with a leaning towards Pres- 
byterianism. Indeed, their early religious training was received from the 
Presbyterians. It is not unlikely that the first Benjamin Gould listened to 
the religious admonitions of Rev. Daniel Elmer, who came from Connecticut 
and was installed pastor of the church at New England town (now known as 
Old Stone Church) in 1729. The records of this old church were lost by a 
fire which destroyed the church. The earliest Goulds, as well as the Pierces 
and Murrays, attended this church under the administrations of Rev. Daniel 
Elmer; he died in 1755, the same year that Elisha, the youngest son of Ben- 
jamin Gould, the Founder, was born 11 (ibid.> p. 140). 


whose origin is given above, married into the Gould family 
and was one of the organizers of the African Methodist 
church in Philadelphia. 23 Though it is impossible to cata- 
logue the descendants of these free families, some idea of 
their influence in the development of Negro life is afforded 
by the fact that, when the annual reunion was celebrated in 
1910, there were two hundred and twenty- three living de- 
scendants from one grandson of Benjamin Gould I, whose 
mother was the granddaughter of John Fenwick. 24 Their 
place in the history of the Negro was summarized by a distin- 
guished descendant, himself an army chaplain and historian : 
Several of the earlier Goulds and Pierces as well as Murrays inter- 
married with whites, and members of their immediate offspring went 
away and lost their identity, they and their descendants becoming 
white; while from those who still maintained their identity as people 
of color, there have come many who have reached distinction, and 
in whom their native County shows merited pride, as for instance, 
a Methodist bishop, a chaplain in the United States regular army, a 
physician, a lawyer, a distinguished dentist, teachers, writers, journal- 
ists; and in the industrial arts, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, wheel- 
wrights, painters, carriage builders, woolen spinners, and weavers; 
brickmakers, machinists, engineers, electricians, printers, factory men, 
sailors, ministers of the Gospel, and farmers; in fact none of its sister 
villages has produced taking equality of environment more or bet- 
ter or more creditable individualities than has this settlement. 25 

*s Ibid., p. 114. 

** Ibid., pp. 109-12. "If the writers of this book should attempt to write 
to all their living relatives, they would write addresses to every state in the 
Union nearly, to most of the principal cities in the country and several of 
the larger ones in the Dominion of Canada. They would also direct to Lon- 
don, Liverpool, Paris, Berlin, and Antwerp" (ibid., p. 221). 

a s In this community as in others of a similar character there has been 
much inbreeding. During recent years such unions have been looked upon 
with disfavor. At the Sunday-school picnic in 1933 one of the descendants 
who had come from a considerable distance told the author that he had dis- 


Although the far-flung descendants of the families origi- 
nating in this community have been a leavening element in 
the Negro population, the settlement itself has slowly 
dwindled and disintegrated during the last score or more 
years. There is nothing in the appearance of the modern 
well-kept homes, which are a part of the remnant of this 
vanishing settlement, on the highway from Bridge ton to 
Atlantic City, to make one aware of its singular history and 
the memories of those who gather there each year. The 
descendants of the original settlers no longer gather at the 
annual family reunions, once held in one of the original 
houses and presided over by the oldest living representative 
of the family. The family reunions have been transformed 
into an annual Sunday-school picnic, which gathers on the 
third Thursday in August. However, in spite of the fact 
that the main institutions in the settlement, the school and 
the church, have absorbed many outside families, these 
families have not lost their identity. The bonds of kinship 
are still strong, and there is a recognition of a common cul- 
tural heritage. 

Now, we shall return to the South again to consider in a 
less detailed manner several other communities of mixed- 
bloods. The first of these communities is located in Colum- 
bus County, North Carolina. We do not find in the families 
that have remained in this community the well-authenti- 
cated and virile traditions which we found in the area de- 
scribed above. One of the two principal families traces its 
origin to a free man of color who was of white, Indian, and 
Negro mixture; while the other family which later inter- 

suaded his cousin from marrying within the community because he thought 
that such marriages were responsible for a number of "queer" people among 


married with the first was of white and Negro ancestry and 
had become free before the Civil War. The Indian ancestry 
of these families is of special interest because of their prox- 
imity and relationship to the Indian community in Robeson 
County, which adjoins Columbus County. The Indians in 
Robeson County are the well-known Croatans, who claim 
that they are pure Indians and resent any imputation of 
Negro blood. The state maintains a separate normal school 
with white and Indian teachers for them. However, it seems 
from both tradition and reliable reports that are current in 
the colored community that at one time the ancestors of the 
Croatans and the free mulattoes associated freely and inter- 
married. These reports are borne out by the fact that fami- 
lies in the colored community have relatives who have mar- 
ried into the Indian community. These relatives, in the 
words of one of our colored informants, "want to slight their 
own people." 26 

Although one of the older members of the colored com- 
munity referred to his group as "the nationality in here," 
on the whole, the people have identified themselves with 
the Negro race and have forgotten the distinctions which the 
older generation was inclined to set up. 27 After the Indians 

36 The Indians and those claiming to be Indians, according to reliable re- 
ports, definitely separated themselves from the mulattoes about forty years 
ago when white political leaders in their campaign to disfranchise the Negro 
gained the support of the Indian upon the promise that they would be treated 
as a separate race and enjoy certain educational and social privileges. 

7 The following incident, related by a woman resembling an Indian, is 
typical of their present attitude: "One time I stopped there [Pembroke, i.e., 
the station in the Indian community] waiting in the colored waiting-room. 
One of the Croatan women said: 'What are you doing there, you are not a 
nigger? You don't belong in there. Let me show you where to go.' And she 
went ahead of me in the white waiting-room and told the man I was an 
Indian and did not belong in there. When she left, I went back to the 
colored waiting-room." 


and those who claimed to be Indians set themselves apart 
as a distinct race, the members of the colored community 
in Columbus County ceased to regard their group as a pe- 
culiar race and came to think of themselves as a part of the 
general Negro population. However, this was accomplished 
only gradually, for they still took pride in their free ances- 
try, calling themselves the "Old Free Issue," and held them- 
selves aloof from the emancipated Negroes, or the "New 
Free Issue." 28 Then, there were some who, rather than ac- 
cept the status of Negroes, entered the white race. But the 
vast majority have become influential elements in the Negro 
population as the idea of their racial exclusiveness has died 
out. As a substantial group of landowners, they have main- 
tained strictly patriarchal ideals of family life and formed 
the backbone of Negro religious and educational institutions 
in their community. Moreover, they have furnished teach- 
ers and farm demonstrators in different parts of the state; 
while from the two principal families in the communities 
came two of the three men responsible for the well-known 
business enterprises in Durham. 

The other communities of mixed-bloods to which we can 
give only passing attention are situated in Alabama. One 
of these communities is in Baldwin County, where we find 
a group of people who call themselves "Creoles" but are 

a8 One old woman described their attitude toward the emancipated blacks 
as follows : "The tribe is all mixed up now more than they used to be. During 
the old times we had a separate feeling. We did not belong to the Negro or 
the whites. That's what started them to marrying first cousins. They were 
just freed about two miles from here. I guess you know how people just freed 
felt toward people of this settlement who had been free all of the time. We 
was what was considered the 'Old Free Issue/ and those just freed was the 
'New Free Issue.' They did not have much [racial] mixture. They did not 
like us and we did not like them. They felt that they could not accept their 


known by their white neighbors as "Nigger Creoles. " 39 Mr. 
Bond, who came across them while testing the Negro school 
children in Alabama, gives the following account of the leg- 
end concerning their origin: 

There is a legend in the countryside that the community goes back 
in its history to the days when the Spanish Main harbored numerous 
pirates and freebooters in the little inlets along the Gulf Coast. A 
portion of these Carib marauders, so the legend goes, maintained a 
rendezvous on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, where these people now 
live. There is a little bay that bears the name of one of the largest 
families in the community, and that name belonged to a distinguished 
member of the piratical elect of the days of Jean Lafitte and his pred- 
ecessors. To this little Eden, so the story goes, the robbers of the sea 
brought their spoils for division. Naturally, a considerable portion of 
these rewards of piracy were in the nature of feminine consignments. 
Their women were of all races: Negroes, Spanish, French and English. 
The hybridization begun in this way has produced the people here 
described. 30 

Another community of similar racial composition, which 
is located across the bay in Mobile County, has gradually 
disintegrated. Its inhabitants have intermarried with Ne- 
groes and have accepted teachers with Negro blood "if they 
were sufficiently light to 'pass' for Creoles, and if they were 
good Catholics . ' ' Social disorganization is also indicated by the 
cases of open concubinage between "Creole" women and white 
men. However, the "Creole" community in Baldwin Coun- 
ty, which accepted Negro teachers forty or fifty years ago, 
has erected barriers against the Negro as a means of resisting 

29 Horace Mann Bond, "Two Racial Islands in Alabama," A merican Jour- 
nal of Sociology, XXXVI, 552-67. 

3 Ibid., p. 561. The white member of Mr. Bond's party gave the test 
because, when it was found out that Mr. Bond was of Negro descent, he 
was told by the white teacher: "Well, I'll tell you; of course I'm not preju- 
diced, but if some of these Creoles heard that a nigger was up here giving 
tests to their children, I don't know what would happen" (ibid., p. 557). 


the forces of disintegration. At the present time their homes, 
surrounded by whitewashed fences and well-kept yards and 
well-tilled fields, stand in marked contrast to the destitution 
and disorderliness of the plantation Negro. The high scores 
above national standards of the school children are prob- 
ably a reflection of the generally high social and economic 
status of this well-knit rural community which prides itself 
upon its race and keeps alive its traditions of a noble past. 
The other "racial island" in Mobile County is composed 
of a group of mixed-bloods who call themselves Cajuns. 31 
This community of hybrids presents a depressing picture of 
poverty and social decay. Instead of churches supported by 
staunch believers, as in the case of the Catholic "Creoles," 
there are Baptist and Methodist missions housed in old 
weather-beaten, ramshackle buildings and supported by 
outside sources. These churches serve as schoolhouses for 
the children, whose backwardness surpasses even the Negro 
children on the plantations. Yet these same children are 
quick to inform any visitor that they are Cajuns, "Injuns 
an' white folks, all mixed up," and that there "aint had no 
nigger blood" in them. 3a In wretched rented cabins scattered 
about in the barren hill country, these people eke out a 
miserable existence through the cultivation of sparse upland 
cotton and sweet potatoes, the only crops that the soil is 

J " Whether the Cajuns of Alabama bear kinship to those of Mississippi 
and Louisiana is a matter of question. The word itself is a corruption of 
'Acadian' or 'Arcadian* and their derivation is claimed by the historians of 
Louisiana to be from those French- Canadians dispossessed by the British in 
the eighteenth century and immortalized by Longfellow. Not a single per- 
son could be found in the Mobile County community, however, who knew 
of this origin, or claimed it. They admit readily the racial heritage from the 
Indian, but deny as strongly as the Creoles of Baldwin County the presence 
of any 'Negro taint* " (ibid., p. 562). 

3 Nevertheless, many of the Cajuns show signs of Negro blood. 


capable of producing. Contrasting the decay of this com- 
munity with that of the "Creoles," Bond writes: 

"In these Cajun communities where the families are brought in 
open contact with the white world the demoralization seems to be 
even more thorough. The Creoles simply disappear, while echoes of 
the Cajuns linger on in tales of licentious conduct, concubinage with 
both white and black men, and altogether a lingering survival of the 
disorganization now patent in the community, but even more raw 
and unpleasant when exposed to the probing of forces from two 
sides. 33 

The social and economic conditions of the Cajuns are 
similar in many respects to the situation which two investi- 
gators found in an isolated community of mixed-bloods in 
Virginia. 34 According to the authors of this investigation, 
the Wins the name by which they are designated in the 
study started from "four fountain heads; one a white man 
named Brown, and the other three from Indians, named re- 
spectively Lane, Thomas and Jones/ 7 while the infusion of 
Negro blood came at a later date through matings with 
Negroes, both slave and free. 

A white man named Brown married a Dolly Thomas, either a full- 
blood or a half-blood Indian. These two had many children, half- 
breeds, by the name of Brown, which children have in turn married 
and their descendants are now found in the Coon mountain regions of 
Ab County. Dolly Thomas' father, William Thomas, was known to 
have been an Indian and lived on the Ban River in that county. It 
is not known, however, from what tribe he, or the other Indians to be 
mentioned came, whether Cherokee from the Southern Appalachians 
or Powhatan from Eastern Virginia or Tuscarora from Southeastern 
Virginia. It is evident that they were wandering Indians as Ab County 
never belonged to any particular tribe of Indians. Legend has it that 

it.,p. 566. 

3* Arthur H. Estabrook and Ivan E. McDougle, Mongrel Virginians: The 
Win Tribe (Baltimore, 1926). 


these Indians were travelling from their lands in the Carolinas on to 
Washington to see the Great Father just after the Revolutionary War 
and that for some reason these few stopped in Ab County. Another 
daughter of William Thomas married an Ed Jones, an Indian, on 
December 6, 1790, the official record of the marriage being found in 
the Ab Courthouse. This license does not state the color of the people 
concerned here. That fact is deduced from the statements of the 
people of Ab County and from the information secured from some of 
the older Wins. The son of this Ed Jones named Ned, and born about 
1791, a half-breed, married his first cousin on his mother's side, a girl 
named Iders, and had a set of children named Jones, also half-breeds. 
These Jones have increased in number and now form at least one-half 
of the Win families now in the region. The name Jones is also found 
in Virginia in 1746 and later in what is now Ac County, this region 
being north of the James River. This name is white and in certain 
parts of the county a good name. A third Indian strain comes in 
through a John Lane, a full blood Indian, born 1780, his daughter 
having married into the half-breed Brown family. M 

The descendants of these families became segregated from 
both the white and the Negro population because of their 
isolated situation in the mountains and the attitudes of the 
whites and Negroes. For the most part, they have carried 
on a precarious existence by raising tobacco, while a few 
have hired themselves as laborers to neighboring white 
farmers. Most of these people live in log houses or rough 
shacks on rented land. The school and chapel maintained 
by a missionary organization are indicative of the poverty 
and social disorganization in the community. 

The authors attributed the economic inefficiency, the 
loose sex morals, and the low mental level of the people who 
form this group to the bad effects of racial mixture. They 
regarded the situation in this community as typical of the 
effects of the infusion of Indian and Negro blood in normal 

M Ibid., pp. 17-19. 


white family stocks, which consequently become the bearers 
of the inferior racial traits of the Negro and Indian. But 
we have seen from our study of families of the same racial 
mixture who have formed communities in both the North 
and the South that they have been as often as not a very 
thrifty class with sound morals and have furnished many 
of the leaders in the Negro population. Therefore, in con- 
cluding this chapter, we shall first consider some of the cul- 
tural factors which seem to offer a sufficient explanation of 
the economic and social status of these communities and then 
attempt to estimate the influence of these families of white, 
Indian, and Negro ancestry that have become a part of the 
general Negro population on the development of Negro 
family life. 

All these communities have been influenced in their de- 
velopment by their geographic location. The Jackson 
Whites, the Wins, and the Cajuns have been restricted to 
the barren hill country where they have carried on a struggle 
to secure the barest means of existence, whereas the com- 
munities in Ohio, New Jersey, and North Carolina have had 
a fruitful soil to draw on and have consequently achieved a 
relatively high standard of living. Geographic location has 
also been responsible for the isolation of these groups. But, 
in estimating the effects of isolation, we must discriminate 
between the different degrees and kinds of isolation to which 
they have been subjected. The Jackson Whites in the 
Ramapo Hills of New York, the Wins on Coon Mountain in 
Virginia, the Indian Mound settlement in the hills of Ten- 
nessee, and the Cajuns of the Alabama hill country have 
been more effectively cut off from communication with the 
outside world than the mixed-bloods of Darke County, 
Ohio, or the Gouldtown folk in New Jersey. Moreover, there 


are more subtle ways in which these communities have been 
subjected to varying degrees of isolation. Although the 
mixed-bloods in these communities have been separated 
from the whites, the segregation has been, on the whole, 
more marked in the South than in the North. In the case of 
both the Ohio community and the New Jersey community 
there have always been beneficial contacts, sometimes inter- 
marriage, between the mixed-bloods and the whites. In fact, 
whites in both cases were influential in the establishment of 
their religious and educational institutions. That isolation 
has been responsible for the low stage of civilization in some 
of these communities is further borne out by the fact that 
many who have migrated from these areas have achieved 
some distinction in the white as well as in the Negro world. 
Naturally, we have not been able to point specifically to 
such persons in the white world, but we have already noted 
the conspicuous roles which descendants of these families 
have played in the institutional life of the Negro. The au- 
thors of Mongrel Virginians record the fact that one of the 
two Negroes who sat in the United States Senate came from 
a hybrid community in North Carolina. 36 

In the institutional life of these communities was an addi- 
tional clue to an understanding of the influence of cultural 
factors upon their social and intellectual development. 
Whereas, in the Ohio and New Jersey communities, well- 
developed educational and religious institutions with a cen- 
tury or more of history behind them, the people, also, are 
on a relatively high intellectual level. But, where we find 
institutions poorly developed, as among the Cajuns or Wins, 
or to a less extent among the Jackson Whites, we also find 
the people less capable. The relation between the culture of 

* 6 Ibid., p. 192. 


two of these communities and the intellectual level of their 
inhabitants has been presented in a striking manner in the 
study by Bond. He found that, on the one hand, the chil- 
dren of the efficient, intelligent, and thrifty Creoles, whose 
well-founded institutions and traditions were still intact, 
gave scores higher than the national norms, whereas the 
children of the poor, ignorant, disorganized Cajuns, of the 
same racial mixture, who were supported by missions and 
possessed scarcely any traditions, gave scores below those of 
the plantation Negro. 

What, then, have been the contributions of those families 
of mixed blood that have fused with the Negro to the de- 
velopment of Negro family life? First among these con- 
tributions was their part in strengthening patriarchal tradi- 
tions. In all these hybrid communities where it has been 
possible to trace family traditions, male progenitors were 
reported as the founders of the family lines. This was a 
natural consequence of the fact that these family lines were 
established in most instances by pioneer settlers. This was 
especially true of the communities in Ohio and Tennessee. 
The founders of these families migrated during the pioneer 
days of America across the mountains into the wilderness 
and there laid out communities. Consequently, these fami- 
lies have had a long history of industry and thrift and a 
sturdiness of character that differentiate them from the mass 
of the Negro population. When they have intermarried with 
the Negro population, they have generally married into 
families of mixed blood but with a different background. 
The families that have issued from such alliances have gen- 
erally assumed a patriarchal pattern. 

But these families of mixed blood have influenced the be- 
havior of the Negro in other ways. The children in such 


families generally exhibit the restraint and self-discipline 
which have distinguished their forebears. For example, this 
may be seen even in their religious services which have been 
free from the extreme emotionalism of the Negro masses. 
In fact, when a Negro minister with a religious background 
of the masses has occasionally been assigned to these com- 
munities, he has been forced to modify his mode of preach- 
ing to be acceptable to their pattern of religious worship. 
It is no wonder that the descendants of these mixed families 
have often been regarded as queer by the general run of 
Negroes because they exhibited a firmness of character and 
a self-sufficiency unknown to their more pliable and sociable 
Negro associates. Although the peculiar cultural traits of 
these mixed families have been modified as they have in- 
creasingly mingled with the general Negro population, 
nevertheless, they have tended to enrich the family tradi- 
tions of the Negro and give stability to his family life. 


Those elements in the Negro population that have had a 
foundation of stable family life to build upon have consti- 
tuted in communities throughout the country an upper so- 
cial class, more or less isolated from the majority of the 
population. Up until the first decade of the present century, 
their numbers were slowly increased by other families that 
managed to rise, as the favored families in the past, above 
the condition of the Negro masses. Generally, these fami- 
lies have attempted to maintain standards of conduct and 
to perpetuate traditions of family life that were alien to the 
majority of the Negro population. Where they have been 
few in numbers, they have often shut themselves up within 
the narrow circle of their own families in order not to be 
overwhelmed by the flood of immorality and vice surround- 
ing them. In some places they have been numerous enough 
to create a society of their own in which they could freely 
pursue their way of life and insure a congenial environment 
to their children. Often, intensely conscious of their pecu- 
liar position with reference to the great mass of the Negro 
population, they have placed an exaggerated valuation upon 
moral conduct and cultivated a puritanical restraint in op- 
position to the free and uncontrolled behavior of the larger 
Negro world. 

In general, homeownership since emancipation offers the 
best index to the extent and growth of this class of families 
in the Negro population. By 1890, or a quarter of a century 



after emancipation, 22 per cent of the families on farms had 
bought homes; while in the cities and small towns of the 
country a sixth of the families were living in their own 
homes. During the next decade homeownership increased 
slightly in both rural and urban areas; but after 1910 the 
proportion of farm families owning their homes declined and 
by 1930 had reached less than 20 per cent. This decline 
coincided with the rapid urbanization of the Negro and the 
increase in homeownership in cities. We find in 1930 the 
highest amount of homeownership among the rural-non- 
farm families, with one family in three owning its home. 
Variations in the extent and trend of homeownership during 
this period can also be observed in the different states. 1 
However, the statistics for the various states fail to give 
us any clue to an understanding of the character and role 
of this favored group in the development of Negro family 
life. We must see these families as a part of the communi- 
ties in which they have been a leavening element for the 

We shall turn first to those rural areas in the South which 
we have already viewed from another standpoint. 2 As we 
have seen, in the two counties in the plantation regions of 
Alabama and Mississippi, there has been very little farm 
ownership. In 1910 only 7.5 per cent of the Negro farm 
families in Issaquena County, Mississippi, owned their 
homes; while in Macon County, Alabama, where the situa- 
tion was slightly better, 11.3 per cent were homeowners. 3 

1 See Table 14, Appen. B. a See chap, vi above. 

J The proportion of Negro families owning their homes in Issaquena 
County was about half as great as that for the entire Negro population in 
Mississippi; in Macon County it was slightly less than the average for Ala- 
bama (see Table 14, Appen. B). 



However, even in the plantation region where farm owner- 
ship is at a minimum, the mulatto families have some ad- 
vantage over the black families. 4 The family histories of 
two of the mulatto owners in Macon County will show how 
they are differentiated culturally in many cases from the ma- 
jority of landless black tenants. 
















1920. . . . 
1910*. . . 
1900*. . . 


I8. 7 
















* Unknown tenure distributed between owned and rented. 

The head of the first of these families was a mulatto, 
fifty-eight years old, who was born in an adjoining county. 
His father, who was born a slave, was the child of a white 
man. The father managed to accumulate five hundred acres 
of land which his fifteen children helped him to work. He 
exchanged this land for land in Macon County a little more 
than forty years ago in order that his children might be near 
Tuskegee Institute, though none of them ever attended that 
school. The father left his land to his fifteen children, nine 
girls and six boys. Three of the brothers, including our in- 
formant, are still on the land. Our informant, who has been 
in the present house forty years, is the father of eighteen 

See Table 4, Appen. B. 


children. He has kept a careful record of his children's births 
in a book. Twelve of them were by his first wife, who died 
in 1919, and the remainder by his second wife, whom he 
married soon afterward. All the children by his first wife 
are living, except two who died in infancy. His present wife 
continues to cook for a white family in which she was em- 
ployed when she married. Three of the older children are 
married and live in Montgomery, while the remaining thir- 
teen continue to be a part of the patriarchal household. The 
family occupies a large well-built four-room house. 

The head of this family was the superintendent of the 
Sunday school connected with the Baptist church in which 
he has been a deacon "for years." Because of his superior 
education and position as a landowner in the community, 
he serves as a clerk in the church and conducts the prayer 

His farm consists of a hundred and sixty acres, fifty acres 
of which are in cotton. He owns farm tools, including two 
sweep stocks, two turn plows, three cotton-planters, and a 
mowing machine. He also has two mules and four cows 
which give three gallons of milk a day. His family enjoys a 
varied diet of beans, peas, peppers, squash, collards, and 
cabbages from the garden. Though a landowner, he is never- 
theless dependent upon the vicissitudes of the agricultural 
and credit system of the plantation region. Although he 
"came out even" in 1930, as he remarked, "back debts et us 
up." The local bank foreclosed on its thousand-dollar mort- 
gage, and he has been making an effort to redeem his land. 
His two brothers were in the same situation with regard to 
their holdings. 

The history of another family of mixed blood, that owns 
one hundred and sixty acres and rents four hundred acres 


of land which is sublet to tenants, will show how the stabiliz- 
ing of family relations has been bound up with the growth 
of institutional life among this favored class. The head of 
this family was born in 1880. According to his story, he was 
the son of the mulatto daughter of a white man and "a 
pure Negro excusing him being mixed with Spaniard. " Both 
of his parents were slaves. He was one of ten children and 
worked for his father until he was twenty-one. He married 
as soon as he was "emancipated" from the authority of his 
father. After working six years, he bought the farm in 1907. 
He attributed his success and desire to have a home to the 
example set by other colored people, particularly those at 
Tuskegee. He remarked: 

I guess it was the inspiration I got when I was quite a boy. You 
see I worked around white people and I always had the idea that I 
wanted something too; then I used to go to Tuskegee and see how 
other colored folks lived and that encouraged me to have the idea to 
own my own home. I felt like a man ought to own the very best home 
he could get. I just went to rural schools. My father farmed about a 
half a mile back east of here. 5 

But we are able to get a further insight into the process 
by which this family has become stabilized and built up a 
tradition from other facts in the family history. His grand- 
father was one of the first deacons in the church which he 
helped to start right after the Civil War. He explained with 
considerable pride: "My grandfather was the first one to 
go there [the church], my father the second, I am the third, 
my children the fourth and I have some grandchildren who 
go there which make the fifth generation which practically 
have been going to that church." 6 

There were seven children in the family, two of whom 

s Manuscript document. 6 Manuscript document. 


were boys, twenty-four and eighteen years of age, helping 
their father on the farm. The oldest daughter was teaching 
school, while two of her younger sisters were married and 
living away from home with their husbands. The remaining 
five children were living at home with their father and a 
stepmother whom their father had recently married after 
being a widower for eight years. The house, with its screened 
windows and rambling rose bushes and vines and potted 
plants on the porch, stood out in sharp contrast to the 
hovels inhabited by the multitudes of tenants on the sur- 
rounding plantations. Of the six tenant families three on 
the rented land and the others on the owned land five 
were working "on halves'' with an "advance" of ten dollars 
a month. Although, on the whole, this landowner had been 
successful, during the previous year he had lost money, while 
during the current year his tenants for the first time had 
"come out in the hole." 

The well-organized family of a sixty-one-year-old black 
landowner, who called himself "a pure nigger," shows how, 
in some cases, those families with a small heritage of stable 
family traditions and culture create about them communal 
institutions to maintain and perpetuate their ideals and con- 
ceptions of life. When, upon reaching maturity, this man 
was "emancipated" by his father, he followed the instruc- 
tions of his father, who had been a slave, and bought his 
first twenty acres of land. From time to time he added to 
it, and, with what he received from his father, he owned 
one hundred and twenty acres in all. He and his wife had 
been married forty-one years and had an only child, a son, 
who was born a year after they were married. This son, who 
was married to a woman with whom he "was raised up," 
had seven children. Since he was the only child, the mother 


had wanted him to remain with his parents; but he had 
reasoned with her thus: "Mamma, papa went to work and 
bought him a home and when my children get grown, I 
want them to see something I have done/' So the son ac- 
quired a place about a mile away. Nevertheless, he sends 
his children to the school which, like the community, has 
been given the name of the family, because his father gave 
the land for its construction. Although there have been no 
lodge meetings since the "Mosaics went down," and "com- 
munity meetings are held mighty seldom," they still get to- 
gether when they want to "transact any business about just 
one thing and another for the benefit of the school." 

These families are representative of the relatively few 
families in the plantation area which have managed to forge 
ahead because of their superior family heritage and thrift. 
But, like the great mass of Negro tenants, they have been 
restricted in their development by the plantation system. 
Their numbers have remained practically stationary in spite 
of programs encouraging landownership and scientific farm- 
ing. Individual thrift and a superior social heritage have, 
in the final analysis, been powerless in the face of the in- 
escapable economic forces inherent in the plantation system. 
Migration has offered the only escape from the deadening 
effects of the poverty and the ignorance of the masses of 
tenants. The decrease, during the decade from 1910 to 1920, 
in the proportion of mulatto families in Issaquena County, 
Mississippi, is an indication of this selective migration. On 
the whole, it is only in those regions outside the plantation 
area that family life among the rural Negro population has 
reached a relatively high level of development with the sup- 
port of an organized community. The development of the 
Negro family in Hertford County, North Carolina, is rep- 


resentative of family life in those areas outside the domina- 
tion of the plantation system. 

Homeownership among Negro families in North Carolina 
has increased steadily from 19.4 per cent in 1890 to 28.2 
per cent in 1930.7 In Hertford County, where the propor- 
tion of Negro owners of farms has been slightly higher than 
the average for the state as a whole, it was practically the 
same as the state average in 1930. Although a relatively 
larger number of the mulatto families are homeowners, the 
black families in this county are much better situated in 
regard to homeownership than even the mulatto families in 
the plantation counties. A little more than a fifth of the 
black families and about a third of the mulatto families were 
homeowners in i92o. 8 In this county, where 40 per cent of 
the families are of mixed blood, we can see how the blacks, 
who received their freedom as the result of the Civil War, 
and the mulattoes, who have had a longer history of free- 
dom, have each contributed a stabilizing element to the 
family life in this community. 

In this county, as we have seen, the illicit unions between 
white men and mulatto women, which were responsible for 
the large mulatto class, continued on a large scale until the 
opening of the present century. 9 But there was a small group 
of families of mixed blood that had taken on an institutional 
character and conformed to conventional mores. In 1830 
there were 168 free colored families in this county, 7 of whom 
were owners of slaves. Although it was not possible to trace 
the descendants of all these families, we were able to obtain 
fairly good histories of three families. A descendant of one 
of these families was able to give an account of six genera- 

7 See Table 14, Appen. B. 

8 See Table 4, Appen. B. See p. 136 above. 


tions of the descendants of one of the free colored men listed 
in the 1830 census. From the son of another of these free 
heads of families, we were able to get an account of his 
father and his descendants. Our informant was born in the 
county, April n, 1845. His mother was the daughter of a 
freeborn mulatto, 10 who owned his home and was married 
to a free mulatto. His father, whose mother was a white 
woman, was also regarded for some time as a free colored 
person. According to our informant, his paternal grand- 
father fought in the Revolutionary War and drew a pension 
and later received a farm from the government in Tennessee, 
which he exchanged with a white man for land in the county. 
He told the following incident regarding the uncertainty 
concerning his father's racial identity : 

In those days the free born couldn't have a gun without license. 
My father had a gun and was indicted for toting a gun without license. 

J A , a white man who owned a lot of land, told him to stand 

trial. He stood trial and when the case came up he denied the charge 

and said he was a white man. A rose and said he knew his white 

mother. A said, "she was a blue-eyed white woman." Did you 

know his father? was the next question. What did he look like? It 
was said that he looked like a white man. That cleared father. 11 

Although his father was legally married to his mother, 
he left her after five children were born and was freed from 
supporting his family by proving himself a full-blooded 
white man. 13 Our informant was pressed into service by the 

10 His name was listed in C. G. Woodson's Free Negro Heads of Families 
in the United States in 1830 (Washington, D.C., 1925). 

11 Manuscript document. 

" The subsequent history of this man's white descendants is interesting 
because it shows how whites have become identified with the Negro race in 
some instances. He entered an illicit union with a white woman who had 
had two colored children. His two white daughters by this woman identified 
themselves with the colored race in order not to be separated from their 


Confederate Army, but managed to escape at Edenton Bay 
to the Yankee fleet. He is receiving a pension at present for 
service rendered in the Union Army as a member of a 
heavy-artillery company. He was married twice, the first 
time in 1867, and the second time in 1902 to a girl just six- 
teen. By his first wife he had seven children and by his sec- 
ond, five. Two of the daughters by the second marriage are 
teachers in the county, while some of his children have gone 
North and entered the white race. Some of the children and 
grandchildren of his brothers and sisters are living in the 
county. He boasts of the fact that he has never been in 
any kind of trouble, having never had "a lawsuit or been 
arrested in the army or anywhere else." 

The history of another of these free mulatto families will 
serve to show the role which these families have played as a 
stabilizing element in this community. This family has had 
family reunions for forty years or more. When the family 
reunion took place in 1930, there were grandchildren, great- 
grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren present in 
the ancestral homestead to pay respect to the memory of the 
founder of the family, who was born in 1814 and died in 
1892, and his wife, who died in 1895 at the age of seventy- 
one. His only living son, eighty-four years old, who was the 
secretary-treasurer of the family organization, was unable 
to attend because of illness. The founder of the family had 
inherited the homestead from his father, who was listed 
among the free Negroes in 1830. A minister, who had 
founded a school in the community in 1885 and had known 
him intimately, described him as "an old Puritan in his 

colored half-sisters. One of the white daughters had an illegitimate son by a 
white planter. Although this son was white, he was identified with the 
colored group and has married into the mulatto community described below. 


morals and manners and the only advocate of temperance 
in the county" when he came there to work. This minister 
had been the first colored minister elected to the church, 
which the founder of the family had helped to establish in 
1852 for the mulattoes. 

The meeting was opened with a hymn, chosen because of 
its theme, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arm." The widow 
of a son of the founder of the family spoke of the necessity 
of the children's "walking in the straight path" that the 
founder "had cut out." Her daughter, a recent Master of 
Arts from Columbia University and the vice-principal of a 
colored high school in a large eastern city, had returned to 
the family reunion. Another granddaughter read, as was 
customary, a paper embodying the history of the achieve- 
ments of the family and a eulogy of their ancestors. 13 The 
program included a prayer service after which dinner was 
served. The ceremony was ended by a visit to the family 
burying-ground where there is a tombstone bearing the 
names of the founder and his wife and the date of their birth 
and death. 

It was pointed out above that the mulattoes in this county 
have shown, until recent years, considerable prejudice to- 
ward the blacks with the result that they tended to form 
separate communities. 14 In two such communities in this 
county, one taking its name from a mulatto family of free 
origin and the other from a black family of slave origin, we 
can see how the rural Negro family has become stabilized 
under the two very different sets of traditions. Information 
concerning the origin and history of "Whitetown," 15 the 

*3 See Doc. II, Appen. A. ' See p. 137 above. 

15 The name of this community, as well as that of the black community, 
has been changed. 


mulatto settlement, was given by the present head of the 
settlement. Our informant's father, who was born in 1801 
and lived within a half-mile of the present settlement, was 
married twice and had eighteen children in all. The hundred 
acres of land which he owned were divided among the nine 
children, who were living at the time of his death. Our in- 
formant, who was born in 1853 an d has the appearance of a 
white man, is still active. Although he sold his share for 
thirty-five dollars, he purchased more land from time to 
time until he acquired seven hundred acres, the size of the 
present settlement. The settlement became known by the 
name of the family around 1860. There was a school in the 
settlement at the time taught by a member of one of the 
other mulatto families. Our informant boasted of the fact 
that, when the "grandfather clause" was passed in order to 
disfranchise colored voters, he was the only colored man in 
the near-by town who could vote. 

At present there are in the settlement ten children and 
thirty grandchildren of our informant. His brother, who also 
lives in the settlement, has six children and one grandchild. 
Working under the control and direction of the head of the 
settlement, the children and grandchildren raise cotton, 
corn, peanuts, peas, and tobacco. In this isolated commu- 
nity with its own school this family has lived for over a 
century. There has been considerable intermarriage between 
cousins. They have refused teachers appointed by the coun- 
ty unless they have been very light mulattoes. The family 
attends a church which was established by a mulatto minis- 
ter for their benefit. These closely knit families have been 
kept under the rigorous discipline of the older members and 
still have scarcely any intercourse with the black people in 
the county. Seeing these families with their blond and 


red hair and blue eyes working in the extensive tobacco 
fields, one would take them for pure Nordic stock. 

The other community, composed of black families who 
boast of pure African ancestry, grew out of a family of five 
brothers, former slaves, and is known as "Blacktown," after 
the name of the family. Although the traditions of this 
community do not go back as far as those of Whitetown, 
the group has exhibited considerable pride in its heritage 
and has developed as an exclusive community under the 
discipline of the oldest male in the family. The founder of 
the community, the father of our informant, was reared in 
the house of his master. According to the family tradition 
the master, "Major Black/' was "one of the best white men 
in the section. " Just before he died he called around him 
all the Blacks, who had taken his name, and said, "I have 
treated you all right; if I have wronged you, I beg your 
pardon." The old mansion, which is still standing, is in- 
habited by the grandson of the major. The paternal rela- 
tions of slave days are maintained by the grandson and other 
descendants of the major. When one of the brothers of the 
original head of the Negro community died, a son of the 
major came from Norfolk, Virginia, to be present at the 

The boundaries of the present community are practically 
the same as those of the old plantation, a part of which is 
rented from the grandson of the major. But most of the 
land is owned by this Negro family. The oldest of the five 
brothers was, until his death fifteen years ago, the acknowl- 
edged head of the settlement. At present the next oldest 
brother is recognized as the head of the community. His 
two sons, one of whom was our informant, have never di- 
vided their 138 acres. He and his three brothers, with their 


children numbering between forty and fifty and their numer- 
ous grandchildren, are living in the settlement. Twelve of 
their children have left the county, and three are living in 
a near-by town. Our informant left the community thirty- 
four years ago and worked at hotel work in Boston and as 
a longshoreman in Philadelphia, but returned after five 
years away because he was needed by the old folks and 
longed for the association of his people. One of the sons of 
the five brothers who founded the settlement is both the 
teacher of the school and the pastor of the church which 
serve the needs of the settlement. 

These settlements are distinguished from similar clans 
of blood relatives in the plantation regions of the South by 
their higher economic status and their deeply rooted patri- 
archal family traditions. They represent the highest de- 
velopment of a moral order and a sacred society among the 
rural Negro population. This development has been pos- 
sible because economic conditions have permitted the germs 
of culture, which have been picked up by Negro families, 
to take root and grow. This has been the case with the 
blacks, as well as with the mulattoes, who, on the whole, 
have enjoyed superior advantages. Although the mulattoes 
have less illiteracy, more homeownership, and compara- 
tively fewer broken families with a woman head, 16 the farm- 
owners among both classes in this county and the plantation 
counties as well have a larger number of offspring and more 
children surviving than the renters and farm laborers in 
either class (Diagram I). 17 There has been sufficient isola- 
tion to shield these families from the disorganizing effects 

16 See Table i, p. 128, above. 

'? See Table 16, Appen. B; see also Table 15, Appen. B, for the survival 
of children in black and mulatto families in these counties. 


of industrialism and urban life but not enough to produce 
stagnation. But, as we have observed before, roads and 




































automobiles are gradually destroying the isolation of these 
regions in the South. Some of the younger generation are 
venturing into the outside. During 1931 a member of the 


younger generation in both the black and the mulatto settle- 
ments was arrested and punished for transporting illegal 

From these rural communities we turn now to the towns 
of the South, where amid the shacks and hovels inhabited 
by the mass of Negro population, a homestead here and there 
gives evidence of higher aspirations and some heritage of 
culture. 18 Negroes in the towns and small cities of the 
South have been constantly drawn from the plantations to 
work as laborers on road construction, in the mills and the 
factories, and as domestics in the white families. Usually 
in these towns and cities there has been a small group of 
families who have remained segregated from the mass of the 
Negro population because of their superior economic and 
cultural status. 19 In some of these communities there has 
been a single family that has stood out from the mass of the 
Negro population and endeavored to maintain the stand- 
ards of family life that were foreign to the masses. A young 
woman, a teacher, who came from one of these communities 
tells of the life of her family in a town in Georgia. Her father 
was the son of a Negro woman and a white man. His white 
half-sisters became interested in him and helped him to 
enter one of the Negro colleges established shortly after the 
Civil War. On her mother's side there had also been some 
cultural advantages that raised her above the masses of the 
Negroes. Her maternal grandmother had been a house serv- 
ant during slavery, and her children were later given in- 
struction by the family that once owned her as a slave. One 

18 In 1910 a fourth of the urban Negro population was living in cities of 
less than 10,000 inhabitants. 

'<> See W. E. B. Du Bois, The Negro in the Black Belt: Some Social Sketches 
("Bulletin of the Department of Labor " No. 22 [Washington, 1902]). 


of these children, her mother, had been encouraged to at- 
tend the same school which her father attended. The court- 
ship between her mother and father began while they were 
in college. Two northern white women, who became inter- 
ested in her mother and sent her to the Latin High School in 
Boston, gave her two buildings to start a school in the town 
of her birth in Georgia. Her father came to teach in the 
same school and married her mother. The story of her 
mother's efforts to establish the school and her family's 
attempts to maintain their own moral standards in the face 
of the degradation of the masses was related by her as fol- 

Our life around M was very seclusive. Nowhere to go and no- 
body to associate with. We were taken away for the summer for va- 
cation to see a little of the world. When my mother first established 
the school there was a quite a bit o f opposition. They thought it was 
at first a Congregational School and they sought to burn it down. 
She would have to sit up at night with a shawl around her shoulders 
to watch the buildings going up. Eventually a fire was started but 
some of the neighbors put it out. After it was erected they kept the 
children home they were not going to have any "Congregations" in 
their families. The people in the community were mostly all Baptists. 
They said the Congregationalists were not Christians. Although the 
people there were thrifty and many of them owned their own homes, 
they had very low moral standards. Our mother and father kept us 
away from them. It caused hard feelings. We were not allowed to 
associate with the masses. There was a lot of factories there canning 
factories and every child about fourteen years of age had to work. 
Every year about school time there would be so many illegitimate 
children born to these girls. My sister and I were the only two girls 
who didn't work there at the factory. 20 

In the larger cities of the South where these families were 
more numerous, they were able to create a more congenial 

ao Manuscript document. 


environment for their way of life. This was especially true 
of those cities where there already existed a group of families 
with several generations of free ancestry and where college 
communities were located. The development of Negro fam- 
ily life in New Orleans and in Charleston, South Carolina, 
had its roots among the colored people who were free before 
the Civil War. 

In New Orleans the Civil War and emancipation and con- 
sequent industrial and social changes caused the disruption 
of the free mulatto caste. Many of the free colored people 
who had themselves been slaveholders were sympathetic to- 
ward the confederacy and in some cases participated in the 
conflict on the side of the South. A review of confederate 
troops held in New Orleans in 1861 included a regiment of 
fourteen hundred free colored men. 21 Between the people of 
this class and the newly emancipated blacks there was little 
community of interest or sympathy. Some of the members 
of the free colored caste acquired positions of influence dur- 
ing the Reconstruction Period. One of them was state treas- 
urer from 1868 to 1879." But, when white domination was 
once more established, the color line was drawn so as to in- 
clude the former free people of color and their descendants 
and the former slaves in the same category, and both were 
subjected on the whole to the same restrictions. Although this 
brought about some solidarity of interest and feeling be- 
tween the two classes, many of the descendants of the free 
colored caste withdrew to themselves, refusing even to send 
their children to the schools attended by colored people and 
Negroes of slave ancestry. One of the members of this class 
wrote concerning the broken morale of his group: 

ai Negro Year Book, 1931-1932, p. 329. 

M R. L. Desdunes, Nos homines et noire histoire (Montreal, 1911), p. 103. 


Certain Creoles of our day are reduced to that point of moral im- 
potence that they despise and repulse their kind, even their own 
parents. Instead of thinking of means of deliverance, they surrender 
to their weakness, without being able to determine what principles 
to follow or what resolutions to take, as if they wished to habituate 
their natures to absolute submission or the obliteration of their indi- 
vidualities. They live in a stage of moral enfeeblement which re- 
sembles the last stage of helplessness. In this state of deterioration 
they not only care little about raising their abased dignity, but they 
multiply their errors as if to increase their mortification. 23 

The rehabilitation of these families was often effected 
when they became the leaders of the Negro group or when 
they intermarried with the ambitious and rising families in 
the Negro group and mingled their traditions with those 
of the latter. This was the case with the family of one of the 
political leaders of the Negroes in the South. Although he 
was a mulatto, his wife's family, who belonged to the free 
mulatto caste, objected to their daughter's marrying him 
because he was a descendant of slaves. 24 The conflict in 
traditions and outlook on life was further revealed when the 

2 * Ibid., p. 25. 

3 Based upon family-history document. We can get some idea of the out- 
look of the free mulatto caste from the following excerpt from the family 
history as related by the daughter: "Upon the death of my grandfather 
(who was a butcher and had been killed by his slave), my grandmother mar- 
ried an independent tobacco manufacturer. There were twelve children by 
this second marriage. He and grandma, of whom I have a picture, appear to 
be white. He looks like an old Confederate solider. Grandma, when a widow, 
had refused to marry a man who had fought in the Union Army. She re- 
garded him as responsible for losing her slaves. She consistently refused to 
salute the American flag. Once when she had to get a passport to go to 
New Orleans and was ordered to salute the American flag, she spat upon it 
and put it under her feet. She was not punished for this, either because she 
was a woman or because she was a beautiful woman. Until her death she 
regarded Abraham Lincoln as her enemy. Grandma strenuously objected to 
my father's marrying her daughter because my father was a descendant of 
slaves. All of her children who are living are now in the white race." 


politician wanted their daughter to attend a Negro college 
and his wife who wanted her to enter a convent. As it 
turned out, the daughter, who married into the colored 
group and identified herself with them, became a leader of 
colored women in politics. Her daughter, who was com- 
pletely identified with Negroes, married a successful busi- 
nessman who has made a conspicuous success in manufac- 

In Charleston the cleavage between the mulattoes of free 
ancestry and the emancipated Negroes, especially those of 
mixed blood, has never been as wide as in New Orleans. 
Doubtless, as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, there 
was prejudice against admitting black Negroes into the 
"charmed circle of aristocracy/' as one of the mulattoes re- 
ferred to her class. But what distinguished these families 
chiefly from the great mass of the Negro population was not 
simply their light skins. They took pride in their economic 
and educational achievements and more especially their cul- 
ture and purity in family morals. 

The emphasis which this class generally placed upon 
morality in family relations is exemplified in the remark of 
a member of one of these families that migrated from 
Charleston to Philadelphia because of an assault during the 
slavery agitation. In speaking of the attitude of the old 
Philadelphia families toward the mulatto families from the 
South, she remarked: "The people there regarded all mu- 
latto women from the South as the illegitimate children of 
white men, but in the case of our family we could boast of 
being legitimate." 25 

a Manuscript document. This family is reputed to have conducted the 
largest tailoring establishment in Charleston thirty years before the Civil 


A brief sketch of the history of one of these old Phila- 
delphia families will throw some light on the origin of the 
puritanical outlook of this class. The family in question 
traces its descent from the brother of Absalom Jones, who 
with Richard Allen organized the Free African Society in 
1787. After he broke with Allen, he founded St. Thomas' 
Protestant Episcopal Church. 26 This pioneer minister's 
nephew, who was the father of our informant, lived to be 
ninety-two years of age. As a boy he was bound out, as 
was customary, to a barber. Later he became the proprietor 
of three barber shops in the business section of the city and 
served a select white clientele. Our informant took pride 
in the fact that his father was one of the founders of the 
Central Presbyterian church in 1844 and later wrote its 
history. He married into one of the old families, one of 
whose members was appointed to a diplomatic post by the 
government. There were sixteen children, including our in- 
formant. Five of our informant's sisters became school- 
teachers, one brother a barber, another a painter, and the 
remainder went into business. Our informant, who had com- 
pleted over forty- three years in the Post Office as a clerk, 
was also the secretary of a building and loan association. 
He was married to a woman who belonged to one of the old 
families in New Orleans. They have two daughters who are 
schoolteachers and a son who is a manufacturing chemist. 
Our informant still has the eye glasses which Absalom Jones 
wore and a chair in his living-room which belonged to his 
distinguished granduncle. 

In other communities of the North where these families 
have settled they have formed nuclei of family groups that 
have striven to maintain purity in family morals as well as 

36 Woodson, The Negro in Our History (Washington, 1928), pp. 148-49. 


external forms of respectability. 27 Their numbers have been 
increased constantly by families that possessed the tradi- 
tions of the rural families which we have given some account 
of in this chapter. This small group has been the custodian 
of the gains which the Negro has made in acquiring culture 
and civilization. In taking over the manners and morals of 
the whites, there has been in some instances a disharmony 
between form and content. But, in most families, insistence 
upon moral conduct has been supported by genuine senti- 
ment. Where their moral vision has been out of focus and 
their conscious strivings to attain culture have produced 
artificiality, this has been due to their seeing themselves as 
if in two mirrors. They have seen themselves both in the 
mirror of their own race, whose ways of life they shunned 
and disdained, and in the mirror of the white race, in whose 
image they vainly would have made themselves over. On 
the whole, these families belong to an age that is past, or 
before the Negro became a dweller in the modern city. 

2 7 See e.g., W. B. Hartgrove, "The Story of Maria Louise Moore and 
Fannie M. Richards," Journal of Negro History, I, 23-33, concerning a 
family that settled in Detroit. For a romantic but authentic account of the 
origin of a family that has played a prominent role in Negro life see William 
and Ellen Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (London, 1860). 
This family owed its origin to the courage and resourcefulness of a mulatto 
slave woman in Georgia who disguised herself as a young southern gentleman 
and with her black husband as her (his) valet, escaped to Boston. She spent 
some time in England in order not to be returned to the South. 




The mobility of the Negro population which began as 
a result of the Civil War and emancipation tore the Ne- 
gro from his customary familial attachments. As the old 
order crumbled, thousands of Negro men and women be- 
gan to wander aimlessly about the country or in search 
of adventure and work in the army camps and cities. In 
order to meet this situation and at the same time to insure 
a steady labor supply, the South enacted severe laws to curb 
the vagrancy of the landless Negro. Although the North 
through congressional Reconstruction put an end to these 
laws which practically re-enslaved the Negro, northern in- 
dustrialists and capitalists were not willing to permit the 
former slaves to divide and take title to the land of their 
former owners. 1 Consequently, the vast majority of the Ne- 
groes gradually settled down to a mode of life under a modi- 
fied plantation system. A large number who had acquired 
migratory habits during the disordered period following the 
Civil War continued to drift from place to place. On the 
other hand, since Reconstruction, the migratory habits of 
the Negro have been constantly affected by the changing 
economic and social conditions in the South. It was due 
primarily to economic conditions that a mass movement was 
set in motion from Louisiana and Mississippi to Kansas 
and the West in 1879.* But, from then until the mass migra- 

1 Cf. James S. Allen, "The Struggle for Land during the Reconstruction 
Period/' Science and Society, I, 378-401. 

a Carter G. Woodson, A Century of Negro Migrations (Washington, D.C., 
1918), pp. 126-46. 



tions during the World War, the mobility of the Negro has 
consisted of an inconspicuous but steady stream of indi- 
viduals and families migrating from the farms to lumber and 
turpentine camps and into the towns and cities of the North 
and South. 

By 1910 nearly one and two-third million Negroes had 
migrated from the state of their birth to other states. 3 Most 
of these migrants, a little over a million, had moved about 
in the South; while four hundred thousand had left the 
South and were living in the North. Most of these migrants 
had gone to southern cities, for we find that, whereas in the 
South as a whole 12.2 per cent of the resident Negro popula- 
tion was born in other states, 26.1 per cent of the Negroes 
residing in southern cities were born outside the state. 4 
These figures give us no information on migration from rural 
areas to cities within the same state; nor do they afford more 
than a partial measure of the general mobility of the south- 
ern Negro. However, in regard to the general migration to 
urban areas in the South, we know that a million Negroes 
have moved into towns and cities since 1900. Unlike migra- 
tions to northern cities, this movement "has been spread 
among 78 places of 25,000 and over, and 773 localities of 
from 2,500 to 25,ooo." s 

Among the million Negroes who deserted the rural com- 
munities of the South, there were thousands of men and 
women who cut themselves loose from family and friends 
and sought work and adventure as solitary wanderers from 

3 Bureau of the Census, Negro Population: ijgo-iQis (Washington, D.C., 
1918), pp. 72-73. 

5 Frank Alexander Ross, "Urbanization and the Negro/' Publication of the 
American Sociological Society, XXVI, 121. 


place to place. Some of the men had their first glimpse of 
the world beyond the plantation or farm when they worked 
in sawmills, turpentine camps, or on the roads. Some of the 
women had their first experience with city life when they 
went to a near-by town to work temporarily for a few dollars 
a month in domestic service. But a large number of them 
had become accustomed to going to town on Saturday after- 
noons to escape the boredom of the rural community. Then, 
too, these towns offered comparative freedom from the re- 
ligious restraints imposed by the rural churches. In the 
dance halls these simple peasant folk could give rein to their 
repressed impulses without incurring the censure of the 
elders for their "sinful conduct." Even before the cinema 
and the radio revealed a larger outside world of romance 
and adventure, they could hear from the mouth of some 
"Black Ulysses" fabulous stories of the outside world. Once 
having caught a glimpse of the world beyond the dull rou- 
tine of country life, these men and women were lured on to 
a world beyond these small towns where they might enjoy 
even greater freedom and more exciting adventures. 

In the lumber and turpentine camps one may get a 
glimpse of the free sex behavior and spontaneous matings 
which these roving men and homeless women form during 
their wanderings. These camps offer greater anonymity and 
freedom from social control than the small towns. They 
bring men and women from the farms in contact with men 
and women who have already had some experience in the 
outside world. Often some black troubadour meets a simple 
girl in the town and lures her with his romantic tales and 
strange words of love to take up her abode with him in the 
camp. In the dozen or more hastily constructed one-room 
wooden structures which comprise these camps, one can 


find many such couples. Since these couples are drawn to- 
gether by spontaneous attraction, in which physical desire 
usually predominates, their association is characterized by 
impulsive behavior. Quarreling and fighting as the result of 
outbursts of jealousy or slight irritations occur periodically. 

The character of their association depends also on their 
past experiences. Men who have become hardened by their 
wandering life and believe that men should rule women with 
an iron hand often treat their temporary mates with brutal- 
ity and only occasionally show any sympathy or tender feel- 
ing toward them. On the other hand, the men who have 
retained some of the humanity of their simple folk back- 
ground may find in these women the response which their 
mothers once furnished. Therefore, one may find these men 
and women living together as married couples. The woman 
does the cooking and looks after her mate's clothing, while 
he furnishes the food and buys her a dress or gewgaw in 
town. But even such peaceful and happy associations are 
of short duration. The man or even the woman may take 
a "fancy" to another companion, or, when the camp breaks 
up, the man begins anew his wanderings. Deserted, the 
woman may return to her mother to seek forgiveness for her 
sin the sign of which may be an illegitimate child. In other 
cases, the woman may follow her lover on his Odyssey. 

From the lumber camp or small town the road to freedom 
and adventure and higher wages leads in the lower South 
to Montgomery or Birmingham or Memphis "the home 
of the blues." These secular folk songs of the black trouba- 
dours in our industrial society record the reactions of the 
uprooted folk to the world of the city. 6 They tell of their 

6 Cf. Sterling A. Brown, "The Blues as Folk Poetry," in Folk-Say: A 
Regional Miscellany, 1930, ed. B. A. Botkin (Norman, Okla., 1930), pp. 


disappointments and disillusionments and nostalgic yearn- 
ings for the sympathetic understanding and intimacy and 
security of the world of the folk which they have left behind. 
Handy, whose creations have captured the spirit of the 
urbanized peasant's disillusionment and disappointments, 
has embodied in the famous "St. Louis Blues' ' the plaint of 
the Negro woman who has lost her lover to the gilded city 
woman : 

St. Louis woman wid her diamon' rings 
Pulls dat man roun' by her apron strings 
'Twant for powder an* for store bought hair 
De man I love would not gone nowhere. 

On the other hand, the sociologist may discover in the 
blues and more especially in the secular folk songs the gen- 
eral outlook on life and attitudes toward sex and family life 
of these wanderers. In fact, there is scarcely any phase of 
their wanderings and contacts with the urban environment 
that one cannot find touched upon in their songs. For ex- 
ample, as suggested above, some of these men take their 
women with them on their wanderings. The plight of one 
of these men whose "Georgia gal set de police" on him is 
told in the song which begins: 

Ain't yer heard my po' story? 

Den listen to me: 

I brung a gal from Tennessee. 7 

But as a rule these girls are dropped along the way, either 
to return home or probably to find a place in domestic serv- 
ice in the city. 8 Other women are picked up in the city. 
These strange women often prove unfaithful or treacherous. 

i Howard W. Odum and Guy B. Johnson, Negro Workaday Songs (Chapel 
Hill, N.C., 1926), p. 136. 

8 In a study of Negro women in household employment in Chicago, it was 
found that 51.1 per cent as compared with 1.9 per cent of the white women 
so employed were widowed, divorced, or separated. It is likely that many 


An unknown wandering bard, who has learned that in the 
anonymity of city life woman cannot be trusted, sings : 

I ain't never seed her befo* 

Don't wanta see her no mo', baby 

She say, "Come on, go to my house," 

She ain't nuffin but a roust-about, baby 

She s'arch my pockets through 

Den say, "I ain't got no need for you, baby." 9 

In fact, one may discover in the spontaneous responses of 
these strange men and women to each other the beginnings 
of romantic sentiments among the masses in the Negro pop- 
ulation. Although their responses are based chiefly upon 
physical attraction, as a rule the physical qualities have 
taken on a romantic value. The romantic element is not en- 
tirely lacking in even so crude a song as that of the woman 
who complains: 

I loves dat bully, he sho' looks good to me, 

I always do what he wants me to, 

Den he don't seem satisfied. 10 

Whatever the physical qualities "teasing brown" or 
"slick hair" or "big hips" they indicate an awakening of 
the imagination which contrasts sharply with the unromantic 
attitudes of the peasant Negro toward sex and mating in the 
isolated rural communities of the South. In contrast to these 
crude songs, occasionally one comes across a simple song 
in which considerable tenderness is expressed. A good ex- 
ample of such songs is the following in which the woman 
sings of her man: 

of the women who gave their marital status under these three categories 
had lived irregular sex lives (see B. Eleanor Johnson, Household Employment 
in Chicago [Bulletin of the Women's Bureau, No. 106 (Washington, 1933)], 
P- 35). 

9 Odum and Johnson, op. cit., p. 138. 10 Ibid., p. 162. 


Ps dreamin' of you. . . . 
Every night. 

I's thinkin* of you 

All right. 

I's wantin' you. . . . 

Day an* night." 

In such songs one can detect the tenderness and sympathy 
which are responsible for those rare cases in which these 
roving men and homeless women in the city settle down to a 
quasi-family life and rear children. But usually the associa- 
tions of these "tribeless" men and women, who live outside 
the public opinion of the Negro community, are of short 
duration and are characterized by bickerings over trifles, 
outbursts of jealousy, and violence. Often when the woman 
finds her lover unstable in his affection or the man discovers, 
in the language of this world, someone else in his "stall," 
the result is a stabbing or murder. In Odum's Rainbow 
'round My Shoulder one may find a composite picture of the 
impulsive behavior of this group compressed in a single fic- 
tional character. 12 

The disillusionment and insecurity which these men ex- 
perience in the city may bring back memories of the secure 
affection and sympathy of the wife or children whom they 
have left behind. This may bring a resolve, generally transi- 
tory and soon forgotten, to return to their kinfolk. One pop- 
ular song embodies such a sentiment: 

I gotta wife, Buddie, 

With two little children, Buddie, 

With two little children, Buddie, 

Tell 'em I'm comin' home, Buddie, I'm comin' home. 1 * 

" Ibid., p. 154. 

" Howard Odum, Rainbow 'round My Shoulder (Indianapolis, 1928). 

* Odum and Johnson, op. cit. t p. 43. 


So the Black Ulysses continues his wanderings from city 
to city. During the course of his wanderings in the South 
he may pick up lonesome women in domestic service who 
will satisfy his sexual cravings and furnish him with food 
and lodging for a night or two. Incidents in the career of 
one of these wanderers from Tennessee throw some light 
on the character of this mobile group. He began his sex 
experiences when fourteen as the result of the example and 
instructions of older boys. At the present time his sexual 
life is entirely of a casual nature. When he arrives in a city, 
he approaches women on the street or gets information on 
accessible women from men of his type. Usually, he goes 
up to lonely women in domestic service and wins their 
sympathy by telling them "hard-luck" stories of his life 
on the road. They take him to their lodgings, where he re- 
mains until his hunger as well as his sexual desires are 
satisfied, and then he takes to the road again. Occasionally, 
he sends a card to a woman to whom he takes a special lik- 
ing, but usually he forgets them. In his own words, he tells 
tile following story: 

My mother is dead. My mother has been dead about sixteen years. 
I was a year old when she died. When my mother died I stayed with 

my step sister. My father he has been in , Tennessee and I 

have not seen him in a year and a half. My father has been married 
four times and all his wives died but one. My father was working in 
a saw mill and a log fell on his leg. My father did not go when my 
mother was buried, cause of his leg. My step sister took care of me 
till my father's leg got well and then he took me to my aunts. When 

my father's leg got well he took us to my aunt and then to , 

Tennessee. My auntie raised me up. 

When I left home I went up through about Birmingham, Alabama. 
I live here with my brother, B., my half brother. I mean he lives in 
Chattanooga and I am on my way there now. I have two whole sisters 


living and one whole brother. I have two half brothers living. My 

whole brother is in with my father. He crippled and not got 

good mind. My cripple brother is 19. My sisters are one in Gordon- 
ville, Tennessee and one in Indianapolis. I went to school in Living- 
ston. I went to school in all about eight months or nine months. You 
see, I'd go to school one day and the next day I would have to help 
my aunt wash or cut wood. I did not go to school every day. 

Ever since I was nine years old, I been working for the white 
people, taking care of myself up til about nine or ten months ago. 
These people left and went to Chicago. I been to Chicago too. I went 
on a freight train. There were quite a good many people with me. 
That was the first time on the road. I came up here last night from 
Memphis. The train wrecked down in the yard, and I stayed there 
all night and came on in town this morning. I stayed in Memphis 
three days. The railroad bull run us out from Memphis. We had plans 
to make every state, but we got run out of there; and then I just come 
on through here on my way to Chattanooga. Nine months ago when 
I left home I went to Atlanta, Georgia, I left home on Friday after- 
noon and hoboed on a freight train and stayed there a week and one 
day. From Atlanta I went to Savannah, Georgia stayed there one day 
and from there to Shreveport, Louisiana for two days, then to Baton 
Rouge for four days. Then I went to New Orleans two days and then 
on to Chicago. I never stayed three days in Chicago. I stayed in the 
jungles. I went over by the New York Central Railroad and on out 
where the boats come in. That where I stay. Stayed there three days, 
then I went to Louisville, Kentucky. I wouldn't have stayed that 
long but I got lost. In Louisville, I just stayed here one day and 
came back down the L. & N. to Guthrie, Kentucky and from there 
back over to Milan, Tennessee and from there back to Jackson, Ten- 
nessee and from there over here. When I left home I went over to 
Atlanta, Georgia and see I came through here at different times I 
never stopped. There is a lot of places I have been but some I don't 
remember because I was sleep or did not know what the names of 
them was. I came out to California on a freight train. It took me three 
days to come over to El Paso, Texas and two days from El Paso to 
San Antonio, then a day and a night to Houston and a day to New 
Orleans and crossed the river and stayed in Baton Rouge and left 


that night and went back to New Orleans. We sing songs as we ride 
along and when we stopped we sing them. [He sang the following:] 

T.B. is all right to have, 

But your friends treat you so low down; 

You will ask them for a favor, 

And they will even stop coming 'round. 

I have been arrested one time. I was held up in Livingston, Ten- 
nessee. They kept me three days and turned me aloose. I was held 
up when somebody robbed a bank and they had been told the color 
and everything and was told to hold up everybody that come through 
there. This was over in Montgomery, Alabama. I have stole small 
things. I don't reckon I would care if I was turned over to officers, 
because I would have a place to stay. You see I don't have any par- 
ticular place to go and stay, so I could stay there. I'd just have a 
place to stay. 

[Concerning first sex experience:] I was fourteen years old then. 
That was how old I was when I first had that. When I go to these 
towns if I have money, I can find out from some of the boys. I never 
had no disease, nothing but measles, whooping cough, and something 
like that. I never had nothing else. I use a rubber sometimes. My 
father has syphilis. The doctor said he had it, that's how I know. 

I am going to Chattanooga just to be going so I can stay the winter 
over there. I have a half brother up there and I stay with him until 
summer time. I try to get some work when summer comes. I don't 
know just what Fll do. I work a little in winter. The fairs are going 
on now and I can get a little work there. I didn't have any work to do 
and my father didn't have any. I went and got with other people and 
hit the road. 1 * 

As these men and women wander about, they slough off 
the traditional attitudes and beliefs that provided a philos- 
ophy of life in the world of the folk. A young man who came 
north during the migrations of war period furnishes the fol- 
owing naive account of disillusionment and cynicism as the 
result of his experiences: 

'4 Manuscript document. 


I have come up pretty tough from twelve years old on up til I 
got to be a man. I come up hard, you know. Sometimes, I would not 
know where I could get a piece of bread. Sometimes, you know, I 
would only have a dime, and say I believe I will git me a sack of 
tobacco. Then you know, I would sometimes only have a nickel and 
would git me a sack of tobacco and leave that bread off. Well, you 
know, Mama always taught me that whenever I was out and down, 
she would say, "Well, the Christians, honey, you always go up to the 
Christians and ask them to give you something to eat, and they 
will." Well, the Christians would always give me good advice but 
that was all, so I just got so I wouldn't bother with them and when- 
ever I wanted anything I used to make it to the gamblers. 15 

Although many solitary men and women made their way 
to northern cities before the war period, the number was 
considerably increased during and following this period. 
Naturally, it is difficult to get a measure of this mobile group 
of isolated men and women. It was not until the depression 
beginning in 1929, when the economic life of the rural South 
was disrupted and thousands of these unattached men and 
women sought relief in the towns and cities of the South and 
North, that we have even a partial enumeration of this 
group. For the country as a whole, unattached Negro tran- 
sients constituted from 7 to 12 per cent of the total during 
the nine-month period, August, 1934, through April, I935- 16 
In the city of Chicago, to which many of these men and 
women have been attracted, during the first six months of 
1934, there were 1,648 unattached Negro men and 64 un- 
attached women, or 15.7 per cent of a total of 10,962 un- 
attached men and women, who sought assistance at the 
Cook County Service Bureau for Transients in Chicago. 17 

's Manuscript document. 

16 The Transient Unemployed (Research Monograph III [Washington, 
I935D, P- 33- 

*7 From the records of the Cook County Service Bureau for Transients. 


A glimpse into a few case records on these men and women 
will give one some idea of their background and character. 
In one case the water boy who has served as the theme of 
a well-known Negro work song comes to life : 

A was born in Alabama in 1917. When he was about five years 

old, his father deserted his mother. A has six sisters scattered 

about the country, the oldest sister having been "raised by some 
people in Birmingham." When fourteen, he worked irregularly at a 

sawmill in Mississippi as a water boy. A was seventeen when he 

began his wanderings. He went first to New Orleans where he had 
his first sex experience into which he was initiated by older boys and 
men. After his first sex experiences, he began going each week to 
prostitutes whom he paid fifty cents. From New Orleans he took the 
road to Birmingham; then on to Nashville, Tennessee; thence to Mem- 
phis, and wound up in Chicago. When he came to the shelter he was 
ragged, wore shredded shoes, and was tired and footsore. A psychiatric 
examination after people in the neighborhood about the shelter 
complained that he was constantly exhibiting himself showed that 
he was a high grade moron. 18 

Another case is that of a normal boy twenty years old 
who constantly got into trouble at the shelter because he 
attacked southern white boys. Psychiatric examination re- 
vealed that he had developed a feeling that he was being 
imposed upon. This boy, who was born in South Carolina 
and had lost both parents at an early age, had been adopted 
by a childless couple. According to his story, his foster- 
father was very cruel, although his foster-mother treated 
him kindly. He ran away from home when he was ten to 
join a carnival and thenceforth wandered about the country. 
His migratory life had been interrupted during a term in a 
reformatory in New York. 

Occasionally among these roving men one finds a Negro 
of West Indian origin : 

18 From case record (Chicago Service Bureau for Transients). 


W was born in Bermuda, November 6, 1913. His father, who 

was said to be a heavy drinker, brought him to N , New York, 

when he was four years old. W has never heard of his mother 

since. He claimed that he was deserted a year later by his father. 
According to the story of the father who was found employed on a 

farm outside of M , New York, he had brought the boy to the 

United States when his wife deserted him to live with another man. 

He took the boy first to N and later to a city in New Jersey where 

"he adopted the boy out" to the people with whom they lived. After 
going as far as the fourth grade, the boy ran away to join a circus. 
From the time he was sixteen until he was twenty he crossed the con- 
tinent "three or four times." He said that in every city he looked in 
the directory in the police station for his mother's name. Eleven years 
elapsed before the father heard from the boy. On that occasion, the 
boy tried unsuccessfully to get money from his father in order to 
escape a two month jail sentence for larceny in a city in Michigan. 

A final case is that of an illiterate, homeless woman, 
forty-eight years old, who had been moving about the 
country for twenty-five years. She was born in Louisiana 
and had been neglected by her stepfather. She left Louisiana 
with a family for whom she worked and went to Colorado. 
In 1914 she came to Chicago because she had heard of the 
high wages. Shortly afterward, she returned to Louisiana 
and married a man who deserted her. Then she returned to 
Chicago for a brief period, only to return again to Louisiana. 
Her stay there was of short duration because she heard that 
work at good wages might be obtained in Kansas City. 
When this venture proved unsuccessful, she returned to 
Chicago and sought relief. For awhile, she maintained her- 
self by working for her landlord after the death of his wife, 
and by selling bottles and junk. She makes her home in a 
dark, dirty empty room on the first floor of a dilapidated 
house in the slum area of the Negro community. 

A recent study of twenty thousand homeless men, 10 per 


cent of whom were colored, in the shelters of Chicago, 19 re- 
vealed that a large proportion of the cases represented family 
disorganization. A large proportion of these men, as shown 
in an analysis of 115 cases, had migrated 

from farms and villages in the heart of the Black Belt, leaving home 
at an average age of 16 when they had about a fourth grade education. 
Their movements generally constituted a criss-cross pattern, first with- 
in their own states, then becoming interstate, and finally resulting in 
a trip to a northern city and settlement there. This mobility was gen- 
erally in connection with track labor and construction work. In addi- 
tion, many Negroes secured jobs as Pullman porters, or waiters on 
diners. Thus enticed away from their parental home by types of labor 
which required mobility, these Negroes reached Chicago and here 
found few opportunities for employment and few rektives to assist 
them in their present economic crisis. 20 

Fifty-two per cent of these men claimed that they had 
been married; and, of these, three-fourths had simply de- 
serted their wives. 

A similar situation in regard to family disorganization 
was found among the 7,560 unattached Negro males regis- 
tered with the Unattached and Transient Division of the 
Emergency Relief Bureau in New York City. 21 Slightly more 
than 42 per cent of these men were under thirty-five years of 
age. A study of a sample of 522 cases showed that, as in the 
case of the men in the Chicago shelters, 52 per cent had been 
married. However, about a third of them were separated 
from their wives and another 13 per cent claimed to be wid- 
owed, while only 5.7 per cent admitted that they had de- 

" Edwin H. Sutherland and Harvey J. Locke, Twenty Thousand Homeless 
Men (Philadelphia, 1936), p. 38. 

20 Ibid., pp. 41-42. 

21 From the records of the Unattached and Transient Division of the 
Emergency Relief Bureau for the period December, 1931 January, 1936. 


serted their wives or families. Only 1.5 per cent claimed that 
they had secured a regular divorce. But these figures pro- 
vide only an inadequate picture of a small fraction of the 
large group of unattached men and women. Many more 
highly mobile solitary men and women without the aid of 
relief make their living by both lawful and unlawful means 
in the complex life of the city. 

Generally by the time these wandering men and women 
reach the northern metropolis, they have lost much of their 
naive outlook on life and have become sophisticated in the 
ways of the city. Their songs are no longer the spontaneous 
creations of the uprooted peasant who, disillusioned and 
lonely, yearns for the association of kin and neighbors. When 
they sing, they sing the blues which represent the conscious 
creations of song- writers who supply songs for more sophisti- 
cated sentiments and behavior. Often the men have learned 
ways of escaping the necessity of labor or have discovered 
ways of living by their wits. This involves gambling, deal- 
ing in stolen goods, engaging in "numbers," and other rack- 
ets. What is important in regard to these "tribeless" men 
and women is that they have become purely individuated 
and have developed a purely "rational" attitude not only 
toward the physical environment but also toward men and 
women. Consequently, we find some of these men maintain- 
ing themselves by exploiting women. In some of the bright- 
light areas of Negro communities in Chicago, Detroit, and 
New York, it is not unusual to hear these "pimps" boasting 
of the size of their "stables." Thus, sexual gratification has 
become entirely divorced from its human meaning and, like 
the women who supply it, has become a commodity. We 
can get some notion of the career of these men from the 
following excerpt from the history of one of them: 


Z was born in a midwestern metropolis where he was put out 

of high school because of failures in his studies. Because of his ath- 
letic prowess and good looks he was taken up by a middle aged woman 
who owned a chain of beauty parlors. He even left home to live as 
a gigolo with this woman who had some means. With plenty of money 
in his pockets and a splendid automobile, he soon became known as a 
"big shot" in the underworld. When he fell in love with one of the 
young women employed by his paramour, the latter put him out. 
However, by this time he had established enough contacts in the 
underworld to maintain himself through a number of rackets. He 
continued to live with various women who supported him. This mode 
of living soon became a regular business. By adorning himself in 
synthetic jewelry and driving a high powered car, he attracted to 
himself women of the underworld. As he was unusually lucky in his 
gambling, he was able to amass a fairly large bankroll. Therefore, 
when news reached him that New York City was a fair field for rackets 
he staked his entire bankroll on the venture. He selected three pretty 
women and drove to the East. These women were displayed at the 
night clubs and the various rendezvous of the denizens of the under- 
world. He was accepted by the other "pimps" who maintained head- 
quarters in one of the taverns. After a few years, he had established 
the proper connections and his fortune was made. He maintains a 
"stable" of four white and four Negro prostitutes; employs a physician 
to look after them; and assures them protection from the law." 

As to the attitudes of the women who have broken away 
from their families and wandered about the country, the 
following bit of self-analysis and history furnished by a 
woman in New York City is revealing: 

My name is X and IVe been ope rating in Harlem for three 

years from a private pilch. I don't go in for everything like most of 
these frowsies. I'm a straight broad. If they can't be natural I don't 
play no tricks. None of that freak stuff for me. I don't play the 
streets I mean I don't lay every pair of pants that come along. I 
look 'em over first. I'm strictly a Packard broad. I only grab a drunk 

23 Manuscript document. 


if he looks like his pockets are loaded with dough. If they get rough 
my man [pimp] kicks 'em out. When they're drunk they shoot the 
works. IVe gotten over two hundred dollars, and so help me, the 
bastard didn't even touch me. He got happy just looking at me. 
Boy! this shape of mine gets 'em every time. I know how to wear 
clothes too. IVe never been married. I could though. Plenty guys 
fell for me and wanted to take me to a preacher. They never had any 
real dough though, just guys. No flash, no car, no nothing, just guys. 
You know they lay you once and then off to a preacher. You want to 
know my early childhood. Well, it was hell. My mother never loved 
me and I never loved her. I never had a father and I mean he never 
married my mother and her father never married her mother. I have 
a kid. Thank God, though, he's a boy. He will be able to give it and 
not have to take it like my mother and me. He's down South. I won't 
tell you where. I send him dough. He's only a kid just five ain't 
that funny? My kid, bless his soul, ain't never had a father either. 
I'm an only child and so is my mother and so is my kid. Having a 
kid, bless his soul, didn't make me go wrong. His old man was a swell 
guy. He sure loved me. He got drowned. He woulda married me. I 
loved him too. Oh, what the hell, what is love? All the guys know 
about love is a lay. My kid's old man and me were kids in Tennessee, 

well anyhow, right outside N . We used to go to Sunday school 

together and to day school too. We started laying each other when he 
couldn't even dog water. You know how kids are. Well, we kept it 
up. My mother beat hell out of him and me too. Anyhow, it got good 
to me. He wasn't the only one who had me. We girls used to mess 
around a hell of a lot. I guess I was around about twelve when I really 
found out what it was all about. My mother said I had a white liver. 
I guess I have too. What the hell! She was a hell of a mother. Hell, 
when I was fourteen she tried to sick an old guy on me just because 
he had a good farm. Sure, I laid him a couple of times. He was so 
old though there wasn't a good one in him. He wanted to marry me. 
I got hell for turning him down. My kid's old man had my water 
on, though. Boy, he could go. I was fifteen when the kid was born, 
bless his soul. I worked for some damned good white people. They 
got hot as hell when they found I was knocked up. They sent me back 
home. My old lady raised some more hell. I stayed home till the kid 


was born, then I got mother's job. I kept having guys. I'm honest, 
I like it. I sure can give it and I can take it, too. I Ve always been good 
looking that's why I'm in New York today. A guy, he was a peach, 
took me to Chicago. My old lady didn't care she was also peddling 
her can on the sly. When this guy got me to Chicago, I finds out he's 
married. It made no difference. We had one ball for a hell of a long 
time. Then, his old lady gets wise and tries to beat hell out of me. 
I gave her plenty. Anyhow, we moved to a new pilch. I got a job 
and I meets a swell guy. I mean he was a good looking guy. Well, he 
started me. I was so wild about him I'd a done anything. He got me 

located at the Y Hotel. I'm still crazy about this guy when he 

falls for another broad a little sick yaller gal. I beat hell out of her 
and he kicked hell out of me. That gal made him quit me. She must 
have seen him kill a chinaman. Well, I had some dough stacked away, 
so I get a pilch and go for myself. 

Most of the tricks I turned were with colored guys. Harlem is 
different. Here we only turn tricks with ofays [white men]. They're 
quicker and they don't squawk out loud if you roll 'em. They know 
they're in Harlem. I got to New York with a bunch who went to 
work Saratoga one summer. That's some town. I made more there in 
a day than I did in Chi in a week. We left Saratoga when the races 
ended and the joints closed up. I been locked up. I beat the rap 
though. The funny part about it is they picked me up in a numbers 
raid. We don't give all of our money to our pimps. I got a guy, though, 
who ain't a real pimp. Sure I help to keep him. You gotta have some 
one for protection when you ain't working *s 

These cases represent, of course, the final stages of de- 
moralization. Moreover, some of the men and women of the 
foregoing type are strangers to the background of the simple- 
minded peasant Negro from the South. But, it often hap- 
pens that they are the children of migrants and, having been 
bred in the slum areas of northern cities, are more sophisti- 
cated than migrants from the South. The vast majority of 

** Manuscript document. 


the roving men from the South never get the ' 'break " that 
would enable them to derive large incomes from preying on 
men and women. Many of them are reduced to the position 
of the itinerant bootblacks who may be seen soliciting 
shines at half-price on the curbs in Negro communities. 
Usually they manage to find a rooming-house in the Negro 
slum area and are able to save enough to pay a woman to 
stay with them for a night. Or they may find some impover- 
ished and lonely woman with whom they live until one or 
the other drifts away or the association is ended in violence. 

Some of the homeless women even in the large metropolis 
retain some of their naivete. They may seek simply to form 
an association with some male in order to satisfy their desire 
for sexual satisfaction and companionship. On the other 
hand, the younger and more sophisticated ones may be adept 
in vice and crime. Some of the more sophisticated demand 
that their "daddies" keep them entertained by taking them 
to the cinema and the cabarets and use every art to enhance 
their personal attractions in order that their lovers are not 
lured away by some "hot mamma." Many of them take 
pride in the fact that they are "tough" and do not "fall" 
for "sentimental stuff." But, occasionally, these very same 
women, when memories of home are awakened, may reveal 
a hidden longing for the secure affection of their families or 
an abiding attachment to an illegitimate child that has been 
left along the way. 

The solitary wandering men and women are in the ma- 
jority of cases the debris, so to speak, thrown off by a bank- 
rupt and semifeudal agriculture in the South. It is also 
true that in the process of adjustment to the urban environ- 
ment in the North as well as in the South, thousands of mi- 


grants become footloose and join the hosts of wandering men 
and women. These men and women have not only been up- 
rooted from the soil but have no roots in a communal life 
and have broken all social ties. Their mobility has emanci- 
pated them in many cases from the most elementary forms 
of social control. Hence, their sex behavior and family life 
should be distinguished from the disorganized family life of 
the migrants, to which we shall now turn our attention. 



The cityward movement of rural Negroes, which had 
sent a million migrants to hundreds of southern cities, be- 
came a great folk movement during and following the World 
War, when more than a half-million migrants descended 
upon four metropolitan areas of the North. Whereas hun- 
dreds of Negro families and thousands of solitary men and 
women had slowly filtered into cities all over the South, 
during and following the war, thousands of Negro families 
and even whole communities picked up their meager pos- 
sessions and fled from southern plantations to northern in- 
dustrial centers. In the South the migrants from the rural 
areas were swallowed up in the submerged Negro communi- 
ties of southern cities; but, in the northern cities, the sudden 
irruption of trainloads of primitive peasant folk over- 
whelmed the comparatively small Negro settlements. The 
sudden descent of this vast human tide upon a few northern 
cities constituted a flight, replete with dramatic episodes, 
from medieval to modern America. 

The sudden rush of these black hordes upon northern 
cities was due to the demand of northern industries for 
workers to fill the places left vacant in the lower ranks of 
labor by European immigrants who had moved up in the 
industrial world or had gone home to fight. Hence, the ma- 
jority of the migrants were attracted to the four cities which 
needed the type of labor that their unskilled but brawny 



arms and hands could supply. 1 In the East the glamour of 
Harlem in New York City lured them as well as the demand 
for dock and factory workers; while many were drawn to 
Philadelphia because of the unheard-of wages in her in- 
dustrial satellite towns. In the West the story of the fabu- 
lous wages paid by Detroit's automobile industry and Chi- 
cago's stockyards had penetrated the remotest regions of 
the Black Belt. Thus this unprecedented demand for the 
labor of the black peasants of the South became "a new 
vision of opportunity, of social and economic freedom, of a 
spirit to seize, even at extortionate and heavy toll, a chance 
for the improvement of conditions." 3 

One of the migrants who aspired to "better" his "condi- 
tion in life" sent the following letter to the Chicago Defender: 

The Defender, Negro News Journal, 

Please hand this letter to the Agency of the negro Employment 
Bureau connected with your department that I may receive a reply 
from the same I am a practical fireman or stoker as the yankee 
people call it have a good knowledge of operating machinery have 
been engaged in such work for some 20 yrs will be ready to call 
or come on demand I am a married man just one child, a boy about 
15 yrs of age a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church 
and aspire to better my condition in life Do me the kindness to hand 
this to the agent. 3 

But a letter from the Black Belt of Mississippi expresses 
more vividly the new vision of opportunity for social and 
economic freedom: 

1 See Appen. B, Table 19. See also Donald Young, American Minority 
Peoples (New York, 1932), pp. 47-48. 

a Alain Locke (ed.), The New Negro (New York, 1925), p. 6. 

3 "Documents: Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918," Journal of 
Negro History , IV, 303. 


GRANVILLE, Miss., May 16, 1917 

This letter is a letter of information of which you will find stamp 
envelop for reply. I want to come north some time soon but I do not 
want to leve here looking for a job where I would be in dorse all 
winter. Now the work I am doing here is running a gauge edger in a 
saw mill. I know all about the grading of lumber. I have abeen work- 
ing in lumber about 25 or 27 years. My wedges here is $3.00 a day 
ii hours a day. I want to come north where I can educate my 3 little 
children also my wife. Now if you cannot fit me up at what I am 
doing down here I can learn anything any one els can. also there is 
great deal of good women cooks here would leave any time all they 
want is to know where to go and some way to go. please write me at 
once just how I can get my people where they can get something for 
their work. There are women here cookeing for $1.50 and $2.00 a 
week. I would like to live in Chicago or Ohio or Philadelphia. Tell 
Mr. Abbott that our pepel are tole that they can not get anything 
to do up there and they are being snatched off the trains here in Green- 
ville and a rested but in spite of all this, they are leaving every day 
and every night 100 or more is expecting to leave this week. Let me 
here from you at once.* 

Perhaps no city of the North held out a greater lure to 
the migrants than Chicago, the "home of the fearless, taunt- 
ing 'race paper/ " the Chicago Defender. 5 It was through 
this paper that one migrant was assured of the "rumour 
about the great work going on in the north." From as far 
as Miami, Florida, he wrote in 1917: 


Some time ago down this side it was a rumour about the great 
work going on in the north. But at the present time everything is 
quite there, people saying that all we have been hearing was false 
until I caught hold of the Chicago Defender I see where its more posi- 
tions are still open. Now I am very anxious to get up there. I follows 

< Ibid., p. 435. 

5 Charles S. Johnson, "The New Frontage on American Life," in Locke, 
op. cit. t p. 278. 


up cooking. I also was a stevedor. I used to have from 150 to 200 
men under my charge. They thought I was capable in doing the 
work and at the meantime I am willing to do anything. I have a 
wife and she is a very good cook. She has lots of references from the 
north and south. Now dear sir if you can send me a ticket so I can 
come up there and after I get straightened out I will send for my 
wife. You will oblige me by doing so at as early date as possible. 6 

A migrant from Houston, Texas, who wrote that he 
"would like Chicago or Philadelphia But I dont Care where 
so long as I Go where a man is a man," reiterated the recur- 
ring theme of many of these letters. However, the Negro 
migrant in seeking to escape the control exercised by the 
dominant race was unconscious of the personal crisis that 
he had to face in the unsympathetic and impersonal environ- 
ment of northern cities "where a man is a man." He was 
to learn in the northern city that he had not only escaped 
from the traditional subordination to white overlords but 
had also cut himself loose from the moral support of rela- 
tives and neighbors. In some cases, the amazement which 
the northern metropolis first provoked left little room for 
lonely reflections. From Pittsburgh a man wrote to his "dear 
Pastor and wife": 

I go to church some time plenty churches in this plase all kinds 
they have some real colored churches I have been on the Allegany 
Mts. twice seem like I was on Baal Tower. Lisen Hayes I am here 
& I am going to stay ontell fall if I dont get sick its largest city I ever 
saw 45 miles long & equal in breath & a smoky city so many mines of 
all kind some places look like torment or how they say it look & some 
places look like Paradise in this great city. 7 

This same migrant acknowledges in his letter, "I like the 
money O.K. but I like the South bettern for my Pleasure this 

6 "Documents: Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918," op. cit., p. 296. 
^ Ibid., p. 460. 


city is too fast for me." It was the loneliness of the migrant 
which called forth his greatest protest against the formal 
and impersonal relations in the metropolis. Some were 
overcome at first by the pageantry of the large churches 
such as that described by the migrant in a letter to the 
sister whom she had left in the South : 

I got here in time to attend one of the greatest revivals in the 
history of my life over 500 people joined the church. We had a 
Holy Ghost shower. You know I like to have run wild. It was snow- 
ing some nights and if you didn't hurry you could not get standing 
room. 8 

However, after a short experience with the city church 
many of the migrants felt as the woman who described her 
loneliness and failure to find status in a large city church 
as follows: 

When I was in the South I was always helping people, but I 

haven't been doing any of that work up here 'cause B Church 

is too large it don't see the small people. I belonged to the Phyllis 
Wheatley Club at home and I was always helping people in my home. 
I seen lots of my people down here to the Armory. I was well known 
in my home. I saw quite a few people I knew down there. You see 

everybody mostly called me "Sister H ." They all knowed me. 

I was an Eastern Star when I was at home, but since I been here I 
ain't tried to keep it up. I would try and join a small church where 
the people would know me. 'Course I don't know so many people 

here. I been in B Church since 1920 went away and came back 

and joined again. The preacher wouldn't know me, might could call 
my name in the book, but he wouldn't know me otherwise. Why, at 
home whenever I didn't come to Sunday School they would always 
come and see what was the matter. I would even stay away just to 
see what they would say, and I would say, "Why, wasn't I there?" 
and then they would say, "No," that they had come to see what was 

the matter with Sister H . 'Course I am a good woman and a 

good natured woman. People crushes me a lot of time but I don't 

Ubid., p. 457- 


say anything I just go off and cry just see how some people step on 
your feet, and crush you. 9 

The experience of this woman is typical of many migrants 
who, failing to find status and appreciation in the large 
urban churches, seek the more intimate face-to-face associa- 
tion in the "store-front" churches that dot the poorer sec- 
tions of Negro communities in northern cities. To what ex- 
tent the Negro migrant valued his status in the church is 
indicated by a statement in a letter, sent by a migrant to 
his pastor in Alabama, that "his wife always talking about 
her seat in the church want to know who occupying it." 

On the whole, the migrants, both in and out of the 
churches, are freed from the control exercised by the church 
and other forms of neighborhood organizations in the South. 
They need no longer fear the gossip of their neighbors or 
the disgrace of being "churched" if they violate the mores 
of the community. 10 Consequently, when these primary 
forms of group control are dissolved and life becomes more 
secular, the migrants become subject to all forms of sugges- 
tion to be found in the city. Moreover, since tradition and 
sentiment no longer furnish a guide to living, the migrant 
is forced to make his own valuations of conduct and thereby 
develops "rational" attitudes toward his environment. For 
example, he learns that a "front" brings recognition, while 
a life lived according to the traditional virtues brings none 
of the rewards that the community values. Such an outlook 
on life easily leads to crime and other forms of antisocial 
behavior. But, in any case, the casting-off of traditional 
ways of thinking effects a transformation of the Negro's 

9 See manuscript document in the author's The Negro Family in Chicago 
(Chicago, 1932), pp. 74-75. 
"See above, p. 119. 


personality and conceptions of life. In the new environment 
new hopes and ambitions are kindled, and the Negro ac- 
quires a new sense of his personal worth and rights. In a 
letter to an old friend in Alabama, a migrant in East Chi- 
cago, Indiana, included in his description of the marvels of 
the northern cities the statement: "Oh, I have children in 
school every day with white children." 

It was natural that these black migrants, who had long 
been accommodated to an inferior place in the white man's 
world in the South, should have been extremely sensitive to 
such evidences of a newly acquired equality. But, just as 
coming to the city had deprived the migrants of the moral 
support of friends and relatives, contacts and competition 
with whites in the North caused them to lose the provincial 
community and religious consciousness that had enveloped 
them in the South and quickened in them a racial conscious- 
ness that they had never known. Yet Negro newspapers 
have had a part in this process in that they have made the 
Negro conscious not only of his rights in the North but of 
the limitations under which he had lived in the South. This 
was quite evident in the case of a young woman migrant, 
perhaps not quite mentally balanced, who constantly spoke 
of her thirst for knowledge as a means of getting "out from 
under the feet of white people/' and who never tired of re- 
citing the horrors of southern oppression. Yet, it turned out 
that her sole source of knowledge concerning these horrors 
was the Negro newspaper. Likewise, numerous leaders and 
organizations, responding to this newly developed race con- 
sciousness and in turn accentuating it, sprang up for the 
purpose of fostering racial pride and racial solidarity. Even 
some of the old mulatto families who had enjoyed consider- 
able freedom and equality, and at first resented the presence 


of the migrants, gradually identified themselves on abstract 
issues with the black masses from the South." 

Consequently, today the urbanized Negro is giving up his 
fatalistic resignation to his traditional place in the world 
and is acquiring a certain degree of sophistication. Although 
competition and conflict with whites have tended to stimu- 
late race consciousness, other forces are bringing Negroes 
into co-operative relations with whites. This is especially 
true where liberal and radical labor organizations are at- 
tempting to create a solidarity between white and black 
workers. Such phrases as "class struggle" and "working- 
class solidarity/' once foreign to the ears of black workers, 
are the terms in which some Negroes are beginning to voice 
their discontent with their present status. The sophistica- 
tion of the urbanized Negro reveals itself especially in his 
ingenuity in escaping caste restrictions. It is not uncommon 
that in the anonymity of the metropolitan community, he 
assumes according to his color the racial character of various 
peoples. When his skin is light enough, he becomes a white 
American ; if it is too dark for that, then he becomes Span- 
ish; or, if he is darker still, he may assume the garb of a 
Hindu or an Arabian." However, in assuming these various 
protective masks in order to gain a livelihood and move 
about freely, the Negro's life is usually rooted in the Negro 

The impact of hundreds of thousands of rural southern 
Negroes upon northern metropolitan communities presents 
a bewildering spectacle. Striking contrasts in levels of civili- 
zation and economic well-being among these newcomers to 
modern civilization seem to baffle any attempt to discover 

Cf. the author's The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 82. 
M Ibid., p. 83. 


order and direction in their mode of life, On the one hand, 
one sees poverty and primitiveness and, on the other, com- 
fort and civilization. In some quarters crime and vicious- 
ness are the characteristic forms of behavior, while in others 
a simple piety and industry seem unaffected by the currents 
of urban life. On the streets of Negro communities, painted 
and powdered women, resembling all the races of mankind, 
with lustful songs upon their lips, rub shoulders with pious 
old black charwomen on their way to "store-front' ' churches. 
Strutting young men, attired in gaudy clothes and flashing 
soft hands and manicured fingernails, jostle devout old men 
clasping Bibles in their gnarled hands as they trudge to 
"prayer meeting/' On the subways, buses, and streetcars 
one sees men and women with tired black faces staring va- 
cantly into a future lighted only by the hope of a future 
life, while beside them may sit a girl with her head buried 
in a book on homosexual love or a boy absorbed in the latest 
revolutionary pamphlet. Saunterers along the boulevards 
are interrupted by corner crowds being harangued by speak- 
ers on the achievements of the black race or the necessity 
of social revolution. The periodic screeching of police sirens 
reminds one of the score or more Negroes who daily run 
afoul of the law. Children of all ages, playing and fighting 
and stealing in the streets day and night, are an ever present 
indication of the widespread breakdown of family control. 
Finally, unseen but known to doctor and nurse and social 
worker are the thousands who lie stricken by disease or are 
carried off by death. 

One may ask: "Is death or extinction, as prophesied by 
a southern judge, 13 the only discernible goal toward which 
this bewildering spectacle is tending, or can one discover in 

'3 "The Negro Migrations a Debate,' 1 Forum, LXXII, 593-607. 


these contrasts among Negroes in northern cities some order 
or direction?" In seeking an answer to these questions, one 
cannot study the Negro population in these cities as a mere 
aggregate of individual men and women, each pursuing his 
own way in the strange world about him, but as a part of 
the fabric of the Negro community, the social and economic 
organization of which is an integral part of the larger urban 


To the casual observer the location and growth of the 
large Negro communities that have sprung up in northern 
cities seem to be due to the prejudices of whites and the 
desires of Negroes or, viewed more broadly, to historical 
accident. But a close study of these communities reveals 
that, while race prejudice has not been altogether a negli- 
gible factor, the general character of these Negro communi- 
ties has been determined by the same economic and cultural 
forces that have shaped the organization of the community 
as a whole. Recent studies have shown that the great cities 
or metropolitan communities are not "mere population ag- 
gregates" but that the distribution of their "population 
tends to assume definite and typical patterns." 14 These 
typical patterns come into existence because of competition 
for land as the population increases and the city expands. 
As a result of this expansion, "a process of distribution takes 
place which sifts and sorts and relocates individuals and 
groups by residence and occupation." 15 The location of the 

Robert E. Park, "The Urban Community as a Spacial Pattern and a 
Moral Order," in The Urban Community, ed. Ernest Burgess (Chicago, 1926), 
P. 3- 

' Ernest W. Burgess, "The Growth of the City," in The City (Chicago, 
1925), P- 54- 


Negro community, like that of other racial and cultural 
groups, fits into the pattern of the larger community. 16 

This may be seen in the location and growth of the Negro 
community in Chicago with a population of over two hun- 
dred thousand. 17 Although Negroes appeared in the chroni- 
cles of the early history of the city, they did not attain 
numerical significance until after the Civil War, when Chi- 
cago became the goal of Negro migrants from the South. 18 
From about the time of the great fire in 1871 onward, the 
Negro population practically doubled each decade until it 
reached 30,150 at the opening of the present century. Then 
there was a slowing-down of migration until the war peri- 
od. 19 Because of their color and low economic status, Ne- 
groes first acquired a foothold in and near the center of the 

16 Burgess, "Residential Segregation in American Cities/ 1 Annals, CXL 
(November, 1928), no: "The movement of Negro population into new resi- 
dential areas is often considered as different in kind from that of other racial, 
immigrant, or economic groups. When studied, however, from the standpoint 
of human ecology, it appears to vary little, if at all, from those of other 

" According to tradition, the Negro community in Chicago goes back to 
Baptiste Point de Saible, a San Domingan Negro, who built a rude hut on 
the north bank of the Chicago River around 1779 (A. T. Andreas, History 
of Chicago: From ike Earliest Period to the Present Time [3 vols.; Chicago, 
1884], I, 70-71). " 'Baptiste Point de Saible, a handsome Negro, well edu- 
cated and settled at Eschikagou; but much in the French interest. 1 This ap- 
parently unimportant fact, recorded July 4, 1779, by Colonel Arent Schuyler 
DePeyster, then British commander at Michilimakinac, is the initial point 
from which may be traced the growth of Chicago, from a single rude cabin 
on the sandpoint at the mouth of the river, to the magnificent city which 
stands today, the type of modern progressive civilization" (ibid.). 

18 The Negro population in Chicago increased from 958 in 1860 to 3,696 
in 1870. 

' See Appen. B, Table 19. 


city where there was less resistance to alien elements. 20 From 
the slum area surrounding the central business section, the 
majority of the Negro population expanded southward along 
State Street. 21 As late as 1920, 90 per cent of the Negro 
population was concentrated in the South Side Black Belt 
or the area bounded by Twelfth and Thirty-ninth streets 
and Wentworth Avenue and Lake Michigan (see Map IV) . 
But this area could not accommodate the fifty thousand 
migrants who poured into the Negro community during the 
World War. During normal times the Negro population had 
tended to move into those areas that were formerly white 
residential areas but were becoming rooming-house areas. 22 
This process had gone on unnoticed and without friction, 
until the shortage of homes for whites, created by the sus- 
pension of building operations during the war, brought a 
halt to the movement of the whites from these changing 
areas. It was then that the conflict between the rapidly ex- 
panding Negro population and the resisting whites led to 
the organization of property-owners' associations and, in 

30 Park, op. ctt. t p. 6: "The influence of land values at the business center 
radiates from that point to every part of the city. If the growth at the center 
is rapid it increases the diameter of the area held for speculative purposes 
just outside the center. Property held for speculation is usually allowed to 
deteriorate. It easily assumes the character of a slum; that is to say, an 
area of casual and transient population, an area of dirt and disorder, 'of 
missions and of lost souls.' These neglected and sometimes abandoned re- 
gions become the points of first settlement of immigrants." 

81 The expansion of the Negro population was not only into areas adjacent 
to the Black Belt. The extent to which Negroes are scattered over Chicago 
is indicated by the fact that in 314 of 499 census tracts, that were used as 
units for the federal enumeration of 1920, there were one or more Negro 
families, and in 138 of these 314 tracts Negroes owned homes. 

33 See Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago 
(Chicago, 1922), p. 117. 










some cases, to bombing and other forms of violence. 23 How- 
ever, neither violence nor the formation of property-owners' 
associations has been able to halt the expansion of the Negro 
community along lines in harmony with the growth of the 

The social and economic forces which have caused a sift- 
ing and sorting of population, occupational classes, and in- 
stitutions in the city at large, have effected a similar result 
within the South Side Negro community itself. It was pos- 
sible to measure the sifting and sorting of different elements 
in the Negro population by dividing the community into 
seven zones, each about a mile in length (see Map IV). 24 
The process of selection and segregation was shown first 
in the variations in the proportion of southern-born heads 
of families and mulattoes and in the percentage of illiteracy 
in the population of the successive zones indicating the ex- 
pansion of the community. In the first zone, just outside 
the central business district, over three-fourths of the heads 
of families were born in the South. The proportion of south- 
ern-born heads of families declined in each successive zone 
until it reached less than two-thirds in the seventh. A simi- 
lar trend was observable in regard to illiteracy in the dif- 
ferent zones. For example, in Zone I, which was definitely 
in the slum area, 13.4 per cent of the Negro population was 
illiterate, whereas in Zone VII only 2.7 per cent was in this 
category. As regards the proportion of mulattoes in the 
population of the different zones, one would expect a trend 
opposite to that observable in the case of nativity and il- 

2 * For a detailed account of the economic and cultural organization of the 
South Side Negro community in Chicago and the methods developed in order 
to obtain quantitative indexes to its growth and organization see the au- 
thor's The Negro Family in Chicago, chap. vi. 


literacy. 25 This was found to be true with one interesting 
exception (see Table 5). In the first two zones where the 
most recent migrants from the South lived, only about one 
out of five Negro men and one out of four Negro women 
showed any admixture of white blood. But in the third 



















4O. 2 






* This table should be read in conjunction with Map IV. 

zone the proportion mounted suddenly, one out of three 
Negro men and two out of five Negro women showing mixed 
ancestry. The concentration of mulattoes in this zone is 
understandable when we consider the place of this zone in 
the organization of the Negro community: 

Through the heart of this zone ran Thirty-fifty Street, the bright- 
light area of the Negro community. Here were found the "black and 
tan" cabarets, pleasure gardens, gambling places, night clubs, hotels, 

*s Students of the Negro have frequently called attention to the fact that 
a large proportion of Negro leaders, professional men and women, and ex- 
ceptional individuals, were of mixed blood. The most comprehensive study 
of the materials bearing on this aspect of Negro life has been analyzed by 
Edward B. Reuter in The Mulatto in the United States (Boston, 1918). 


and houses of prostitution. It was the headquarters of the famous 
"policy king"; the rendezvous of the "pretty" brown-skinned boys, 
many of whom were former bell-hops, who "worked" white and 
colored girls in hotels and on the streets; here the mulatto queen of 
the underworld ran the biggest poker game on the South Side; here 
the "gambler de luxe" ruled until he was killed by a brow-beaten 
waiter. In this world the mulatto girl from the South who, ever since 
she heard that she was "pretty enough to be an actress," had visions 
of the stage, realized her dream in one of the cheap theaters. To this 
same congenial environment the mulatto boy from Oklahoma, who 
danced in the role of the son of an Indian woman, had found his way. 
To this area were attracted the Bohemian, the disorganized, and the 
vicious elements in the Negro world. 26 

In the fourth zone the proportion of mulattoes dropped to 
about that of the second zone, but in the fifth, sixth, and 
seventh zones there Was a progressive increase in the pro- 
portion of mixed-bloods. In the seventh zone, where the 
higher social and occupational classes resided, close to half 
of the population had some admixture of white blood. 

The tendency on the part of the higher occupational 
classes to move toward the periphery of the Negro com- 
munity fitted into the general pattern of the community 
(see Table 6). Whereas only 5.8 per cent of the employed 
men and 3 per cent of the employed women in the first zone 
were in professional and public service and the "white- 
collar " occupations, about a third of the employed men and 
women in the seventh zone were found in the same cate- 

36 The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 103. It has been pointed out that the 
mulatto, because of his emancipation from the traditional and customary 
status and outlook on life of the pure-blooded Negro, through greater par- 
ticipation in the white world, exhibits the characteristics of the ' 'marginal 
man" or cultural hybrid "spiritual instability, intensified self -conscious- 
ness, restlessness and malaise" (Robert E. Park, "Migration and the Margi- 
nal Man," in Personality and the Social Group, ed. Ernest W. Burgess 
[Chicago, 1929]). 


gories. The same tendency was true, although not to the 
same extent, in regard to Negroes engaged in skilled occupa- 
tions. On the other hand, the lower occupational classes 
were segregated in the zones near the center of the city. 
The proportion of employed women was also higher in these 




















II. 2 


13 3 


ii . i 



7 6.l 

46. i 
39 7 








* This table should be read in conjunction with Map IV. 

zones than in the zones toward the periphery of the com- 
munity where the higher occupational classes were concen- 
trated. A considerable proportion of the employed women 
in these zones were in the higher occupational classes. Thus, 
viewed both from the standpoint of the character of its 
population and from the standpoint of its social and eco- 
nomic classes, the Negro community in Chicago has as- 
sumed a fairly definite spatial pattern. 

If we turn from the Negro community in Chicago to the 
Harlem Negro community in New York City, we find that 


its growth has not only been shaped by the growth of the city 
but that the community, during its expansion, has assumed 
a pattern of zones similar to that of a self-contained city. 27 
Although there is disagreement concerning the historical 
events connected with the origin of the Negro community 
in Harlem, there seems to be no question that Harlem had 
already deteriorated as a residential community when Ne- 
groes began finding homes there at the opening of the present 
century. 28 The Negro real estate agent who is credited with 
having brought the Negro to Harlem in 1903 was merely an 
agent in a process which has characterized the growth of 
Negro communities. The movement of Negroes into Harlem 
provoked the usual opposition to such invasions. The New 
York Herald of July 10, 1906, reported indignation meetings 
"throughout the neighborhood of West i35th Street, where 
thirty-five white families" were to be ejected to make room 
for Negro tenants. 29 At the end of the article there was the 
following prophetic comment: "It is generally believed by 
the residents, however, that the establishment of the Ne- 
groes in i3$th Street is only the nucleus of a Negro settle- 
ment that will extend over a very wide area of Harlem with- 
in the next few years." 30 

The subsequent growth of the Harlem Negro community 
has been a fulfilment of this prophetic statement. From the 
small Negro settlement in the block referred to above the 
Negro community has spread out in all directions. The 
radial expansion of the Negro population from the area 
about One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street and Seventh 

E. Franklin Frazier, "Negro Harlem: An Ecological Study," 
American Journal of Sociology, XLIII (1937), 72-88. 

a8 See Clyde Vernon Riser, Sea Island to City (New York, 1932), pp. 19-20. 
3 Quoted in ibid . * Ibid. 


Avenue may be represented ideally by drawing concentric 
circles about the census tract in which the intersection of 
these two main thoroughfares is located (see Map V). The 
expansion of the community from the standpoint of popula- 
tion is shown graphically in the statistics on the increase of 
the Negro population in the five zones since 1910 (Diagram 
II). 31 In 1910 there were 15,028 Negroes, or 54 per cent of 
the Negroes in the Harlem area, concentrated in the first 
two zones (see Table 7). Negroes comprised less than a 
fifth of the entire population of these two zones; while in 
the three remaining zones marking their outward expansion 
they became less and less significant in the population. By 
1920, Negroes constituted over three-fourths of the popula- 
tion of the first zone, over half of that of the second zone, 
and about a seventh of the population of the third. During 
this expansion native whites, whites of foreign extraction, 
and foreign-born whites were supplanted in these areas. 
However, the whites in the two outlying zones still resisted 
the expanding Negro population. By 1930 the Negro had 
not only taken over almost the entire first zone and in- 
creased to seven-eighths and two-fifths of the population of 
the second and third zones, respectively, but had become a 
significant element 22.7 per cent in the population of the 
fourth zone. Even in the fifth zone, Negroes had increased 
from 2.5 to 6.2 per cent. 

Although the five zones indicate the general tendency of 
the population to expand radially from the center of the 

** Statistical data from the federal census and other sources on the five 
zones are based on data for the census tracts which are included more or 
less in five zones as represented ideally on the map. Data on Zone I are 
drawn from statistics on one census tract, No. 228; while data on the other 
four zones are based on statistics on the successive groups of census tracts 
encircling this central census tract. 








MUNITY, NEW YORK CITY, 1930, 1920, AND 1910 

Native White 
Native Parentage 

Native Whitt 

Foreign or Mixed 


Foreign Born 




community, the Negro population has not expanded to the 
same extent in all directions. It has been held in check until 
residential areas have deteriorated and therefore have be- 
come accessible not only to Negroes but to Italians and 
Puerto Ricans, who live in areas adjacent to those inhabited 
by Negroes. In some instances white residential areas, even 
when surrounded by the expanding Negro population, have 



1930, AND 1934 













47 . 774. 











40 , 3 i 2 











203 482 

* Census by the New York City Housing Authority. 

put up a long and stubborn resistance. This was the case 
with the area about Mount Morris Park. However, when 
this area lost its purely residential character and brown- 
stone fronts became rooming-houses, the eventual entrance 
of the Negro was foreshadowed. Then, too, the advance of 
the Negro has been heralded by the location of light in- 
dustries, as in the western section of Harlem where, after the 
establishment of a brewery doomed the area as a residential 
neighborhood for whites of foreign extraction, signs inviting 
Negro tenants began to appear. But it seems that the west- 
ward expansion of the Negro population has been definitely 


halted at Amsterdam Avenue and will not be able to invade 
the exclusive residential area on Riverside Drive. 32 

The expansion of the Negro population coincides largely 
with the predominant types of structures located in the five 
zones. For example, the Negro population predominates in 











Percentage of population 
Negro in 1930 



41 .4 



Percentage of structures 
that were nonresidential 
in IQ34 

83 8 


59 .8 

42. <J 


Percentage of nonresiden- 
tial structures that were 
rooming- and lodging- 
houses in 1934* 

34. 2 


31 .5 



* Rooming- and lodging-houses are classified as nonresidential structures. 

those zones where the majority of the structures are non- 
residential in character (Table 8). But even more significant 
is the fact that the Negro population is concentrated in the 
zones where rooming- and lodging-houses comprise a rela- 
tively large proportion of the nonresidential structures. 
Data on the type, age, and condition of the residential struc- 
tures in the five zones show the relation between the expan- 
sion of the Negro community and the physical character of 

s a Since 1920, there has been a decrease in the number of Negroes west 
of Amsterdam Avenue. 


the areas into which Negroes have moved. 33 The compara- 
tively large proportion of one-family dwellings in the third 
zone was due to the fact that the western section of the 
third zone included a large part of the Riverside Drive area 
(Map V). However, the most important differences be- 
tween the zones in respect to residential structures appeared 
in the proportion of hotels, boarding-houses, and institutions 
which were simply classified as "other." The proportion of 
this type of residential structure declined sharply from 51.7 
per cent in the first zone to 14.9 in the fifth. The differences 
in the physical character of the zones were shown more 
clearly in the age of the residential structures in the five 
zones. In the first and second zones, where 99 and 87.8 per 
cent of the residents, respectively, were Negroes, 90 per cent 
of the residential structures were thirty-five years of age 
and over. For the remaining three zones the proportion of 
older structures declined significantly except in the fourth 
zone, which included a large number of deteriorated tene- 
ments in the eastern section where Negroes have settled. 
The relation between the condition of the residential struc- 
tures in the various zones and the expansion of the Negro 
population was less obvious. However, the comparatively 
large proportion of first-class structures in the first zone in- 
dicated that this area was being rehabilitated. 

The selection and segregation which have taken place as 
the Negro population has expanded is seen first in the varia- 
tions in the proportion of grown people in the five zones. 
Practically four out of five persons in the first zone were 
adults in 1930 (see Table 9). In the second zone the propor- 
tion of adults in the population declined to three out of 
four, and, in the next three zones, from about seven to six 

See Table 50, Appen. B. 


out of ten persons in the population. On the other hand, the 
relative number of children in the population of the five 
zones shows the opposite tendency. In the first or central 
zone only 3.8 per cent of the entire population in 1930 was 
under five years of age. The proportion of children in this 
age group increased in each of the successive zones until it 
reached 12.3 per cent in the fifth zone. There was also a 
slight increase in the proportion of females in the successive 
zones marking the outward expansion of the population. 
Although there was an excess of females in the total popula- 
tion of the community, the excess of females in the first 
zone was counterbalanced by the tendency on the part of 
males to concentrate there (see Diagram III). 

The tendency on the part of family groups to move toward 
the periphery of the community was indicated by the in- 
creasing proportion of married men and women in the suc- 
cessive zones. 34 In the first zone only half of the men and 
women were married. From this zone outward, the per- 
centage of both men and women increased until it amounted, 
in the fifth or outermost zone, to 64.2 per cent for the men 
and 60. i per cent for the women. Correlated with the in- 
crease in the proportion of men and women married was the 
gradual decline not only in the proportion of men and women 
single in the successive zones but also in the proportion of 
widowed persons in these five zones. Interestingly enough, 
the proportion of men and women widowed, which un- 
doubtedly included those deserted and separated, was high- 
est in the center of the community where one would expect 

* The tendency on the part of foreign-born Negroes to move toward the 
periphery of the community was probably due to the fact that the foreign 
Negro population was comprised largely of family groups with children. The 
percentage of foreign-born Negroes in each of the five successive zones was 
as follows: 11.9, 15.0, 20.0, 22.6, and 15.6. 





*7 O 

I s 








O O M ^-00 toO to PO CO * 

O TfcoO tOO lO ^- M t^O 
O O M ^fOO to to ^ co < 

10 W 00 tOOO 10 M 00 O O\CO O 

O O >- POOO vO CO t-~ fO 

O O O POOO *O t>- to c* < 
O O M ^ O O OvO co ( 

o PO ^ ^ o oo ^t o^^o rt to t-^ o 
^* o *^ 


O r^o 





: : : J7 "3" 
" i ^'S ^ 















to find considerable family disorganization. Hence, the in- 
crease in the proportion of divorced men in the successive 
zones as one left the center of the community was under- 


YORK CITY, 1930 

Marital Status 


Zone I 

Zone II 

Zone III 

Zone IV 























60. 1 






15 o 

13 o 









The low fertility of Negroes in northern cities has seemed 
to confirm the pessimistic prophecies concerning their fate 
in the North. 35 Thompson and Whelpton have shown that 

In an unpublished study of differential fertility in the East North 
Central States, Frank W. Notestein found that the mean number of children 
under age ten per wife for marriages of five to nine years' duration was 
smaller for Negroes in 1930 than for native or foreign white. The differential 
between Negro and white wives increased with the size of the community. 
However, the mean number of children under age ten per "mother" for mar- 
riages of five to nine years' duration was higher for Negroes in each type of 
community than for native or foreign white. Consequently, the percentage 
of homes with no children under age ten for this same marriage group was 
considerably higher for Negroes than for either of the two other racial groups. 
The percentage of Negro homes with no children under ten ranged from 28.5 


there has been a marked tendency for the ratio of children 
to Negro women of childbearing age to vary inversely with 
size of city. 36 According to these authors, Negroes in large 
cities including Chicago and New York "were not main- 
taining their numbers on a permanent basis in either 1920 
or 1928. " 37 The extremely low fertility of Negroes in Chi- 
cago has been demonstrated in an unpublished study by 
Philip M. Hauser, of the University of Chicago. However, 
in the case of Chicago, we have found in a study of the 
Negro family that selective factors affected the relative fer- 
tility of different sections of the Negro population. 38 For 
example, the ratio of children under five years to women 
of childbearing age was highest in the seventh zone, which 
was farthest removed from the center of the city (see Map 
IV). In this zone there were 276 children under five years 
to 1,000 women of childbearing age, or nearly twice as many 
as in the third zone, a bright-light area of considerable mo- 
bility and vice. 39 

Lately, Kiser found in a study of Negro birth-rates in a 
health area of Harlem that the fertility of Negro women 
was lower than that of white women of similar or even higher 
occupational level in Syracuse and two other urban corn- 

in rural-farm communities to 52.5 in communities of 250,000 and more 
population. In the larger communities, especially those over 250,000 popula- 
tion, the mean number of children under ten per wife declined with the in- 
crease in the value of home (from paper read before the annual meeting of the 
American Sociological Society, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1937). 

* 6 Warren S. Thompson and P. K. Whelpton, Population Trends in the 
United States (New York, 1933), p. 280. 

" ibid., p. 281. 

3 8 See The Negro Family in Chicago, pp. 136-45. 

3 This zone has been described on pp. 305-6 above. 


munities. 40 Kiser indicated in his study that the low fer- 
tility of Negroes was "due partly to selective processes with 
reference to residence in Harlem as indicated by higher birth 
rates among the colored population in other parts of the 
city." 41 As a matter of fact, within the Harlem community 
itself important differences are revealed if the fertility of 
these women is studied in relation to the selective processes. 
If we compare the five zones by which we have indicated 
the expansion of the community with reference to the ratio 
of children to women of childbearing age, we find that both 
in 1920 and in 1930 there was, with one exception, a regular 
increase in the ratio of children from the first to the fifth 
zone. In 1930 the ratio of children in the fifth zone was 
462, or four times that in the first zone. The exception to 
the general trend noticeable in the fourth zone in 1920 was 
probably due to the fact that at that time only a small 
number of economically better situated families had moved 
into this zone. On the other hand, the changes between 1920 
and 1930 in ratio of children in the three outer zones seem 
to indicate that the more fertile groups have tended to 
settle in peripheral zones. 

The relation between the fertility of Negro women and 
residence in the various areas of the community is shown 
also in the ratio of children to women fifteen years of age 
and over who were married, widowed, and divorced and 
number of births to married women fifteen to forty-four. 
Here again we find the ratio of children increasing regularly 
in the successive zones marking the expansion of the Negro 
community. The same trend was observable in regard to 

* Kiser, "Fertility of Harlem Negroes," Milbank Memorial Fund Quar- 
terly, XIII (July, 1935) 273-85. 
Ibid., p. 284. 


birth-rates in 1930. In the first zone there were only 66.1 
births per 1,000 Negro married women fifteen to forty-four 
years of age. But, as in the case of the ratio of children, the 
fertility of the women mounted rapidly, especially in the two 
outermost zones. The fertility of the women in the fifth zone 
was slightly over two and one-half times as great as it was 
in the first. 

TABLE 11* 








under 5 

Ratio of 
to Women 



under 5 

Ratio of 
to Women 

I . . 

4. 141 








4, 160 


I <C ,O2I 




21 , 107 

4 749 










80 5 



* Should be read in conjunction with Map V. 

The significance of these variations in fertility for the sur- 
vival of the Negro population is further emphasized if the 
number of births is compared with the number of deaths in 
each of the five zones. 43 In the first zone deaths were in ex- 
cess of births, and in the second they almost balanced the 
births. Only in the three outer zones was there an appreci- 
able excess of births over deaths. However, the fourth zone 
was better off than the fifth in respect to the excess of births 

* a Because of the differences in the age and sex composition of the popula- 
tion of the five zones, the crude death-rates are of no value. 



over deaths and the infant mortality rate. This was due to 
the fact that some sections of the fifth zone were slum areas. 
Nevertheless, these figures clearly demonstrate the influ- 
ence of selective factors in the survival of the Negro in the 
urban environment. 






per 1,000 

Women 15 
and Over, 

under 5 

Ratio of 











81 5 


4, 1 60 





91 .9 







141 .6 

I 2 , I 2O 







4, 104 






101 .7 




From our study of the Negro population in Chicago and 
Harlem, it appears that Negro life in northern cities flows, 
in spite of its disorganization and apparent lack of direction, 
in the channels of a community life. This community life 
reflects in its organization the impress of social and economic 
forces within the community as well as those that shape the 
development of the larger urban area. In the Harlem com- 
munity, which has assumed the character of a self-contained 
city, the community pattern is visibly manifested in the lo- 
cation of institutions. The concentration of institutions in 


the first zone or center of the community has been vividly 
described in a story of Negro life in Harlem. "In a fraction 
of a mile of i35th Street," wrote Rudolph Fisher, "there 
occurs every institution necessary to civilization from a 
Carnegie Library opposite a public school at one point to a 
police station beside an undertaker's parlor at another." 43 
A survey of this area revealed, first, that the economic life 
of the community, especially with respect to Negro business 
enterprises, was centered about One Hundred and Thirty- 
fifth Street and Seventh Avenue. Located in this area in 
1935 there were 321 business establishments, not including 
53 offices of Negro professional men and women. Although 
about two-thirds of these businesses were conducted by 
Negroes, whites owned the bank and more than 80 per cent 
of the retail food stores. Negroes controlled practically all 
the businesses providing personal services and other types 
of enterprises not requiring large outlays of capital. In this 
zone were also the two principal Negro newspapers and the 
offices of four Negro insurance companies. This area was 
also the focus of the political and cultural life of Negro 
Harlem. In 1935 five political clubs and two fraternal or- 
ganizations had headquarters in this area. Besides a public 
library, a public school, and a health center, the Negro 
branches of the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. and offices of the 
New York Urban League and the N.A.A.C.P. were all with- 
in two blocks of the busy intersection at One Hundred and 
Thirty-fifth Street and Seventh Avenue. The two large 
church edifices one Baptist and the other Methodist 
located in this central zone indicated the character of the 
area before it had acquired its present specialized place in 

"Blades of Steel" in Anthology of American Negro Literature, ed. V. F. 
Calverton (New York, 1929), p. 53. 


the community. On the other hand, the six "store-front" 
churches on the fringe of this zone actually belonged with 
thirty-six such churches in the slum sections of the second 

Although this zone was the center of recreation for the 
Negro population, a number of the recreational institutions 
catered primarily to whites seeking amusement in Harlem. 
However, this was only one of the many indications of the 
manner in which the larger community has influenced life 
in Harlem, economically and otherwise. The ownership and 
control of Harlem housing and real estate are centered in 
the financial institutions downtown. The main arteries of 
travel Lenox, Seventh, and Eighth avenues running the 
entire length of the community, and the "satellite loops" 
at One Hundred and Sixteenth, One Hundred and Twenty- 
fifth, and One Hundred and Forty-fifth streets, not only mar 
the symmetry of the community pattern but bear the stamp 
of outside interests and control. 

The poverty and disorganization of Negro family life in 
the urban environment only becomes intelligible when they 
are studied in relation to the organization of Negro com- 
munities and the social and economic forces which deter- 
mine their development. Therefore, in the following chap- 
ters an attempt is made to study the various problems of 
Negro family life in their social setting and in relation to the 
organization of the community. 


Family desertion has been one of the inevitable conse- 
quences of the urbanization of the Negro population. In 
both northern and southern cities the ranks of Negro men 
who have deserted their families have constantly been re- 
cruited from several sources. Among the foot-loose men who 
drift from city to city in search of work and new experience, 
there are husbands and fathers who have deserted their 
wives and children. Many of the more stable men who left 
wives and families behind when they joined the migrating 
masses during and following the war later became deserters. 
Despite their often sincere intentions to rejoin their families 
and the initial loneliness which they experienced in the new 
world, the city with its varied interests proved fatal to 
family ties. Even when whole families have migrated, the 
community of interests and bonds of sympathy that created 
strong family ties in rural communities have often been un- 
able to withstand the disintegrating forces of the city. 

Although it is difficult to get a measure of the extent to 
which Negro men desert their wives and families, it appears 
from available sources of information that desertions are 
more frequent in Negro families than in the families of other 
racial groups. For example, while Negroes comprised 5.6 
per cent of all the families in New York City in 1916-17 
under the care of the Charity Organization Society, they 
furnished 11.2 per cent of the desertions. 1 A similar situa- 

1 Joanna C. Colcord, Broken Homes: A Study of Family Desertions (New 
York, 1919), pp. 44-45. Italians, who comprised 28 per cent of all cases, 
contributed 20.8 per cent of the desertions. 



tion was found in Cook County, Illinois, where, during the 
six years (exclusive of 1914) from 1909 to 1915, Negroes 
comprised 21.1 per cent of all desertion cases aided by the 
county agent. a Moreover, the large proportion of urban Ne- 
gro families with women heads seems to be due in some 
measure to desertions on the part of the men. It hardly 
seems likely that widowhood, divorce, and legal separation 
alone account for the large percentage of such families in the 
Negro group. In northern cities with a total population of 
100,000 or more, from 10 to 30 per cent of the Negro fami- 
lies have female heads. 3 This is higher than the proportion 
among either the native whites or the foreign-born whites. 
Within the Negro group itself, the proportion of families 
with female heads is higher among tenants than owners, 
especially in the larger cities where the bulk of the Negro 
population in the North is concentrated. 

In southern cities the disparity between whites and Ne- 
groes in respect to the proportion of families with women 
heads is much greater. 4 In the twenty-three southern cities 
with a population of 100,000 or more in 1930, from a fifth to 
a third of all Negro families had a female head. However, 
in most of these southern cities, the difference between 
owner and tenant Negro families in this regard was much 
greater than in northern cities. On the basis of data secured 
from the original census returns on such families in three 
cities Nashville, Tennessee, Birmingham, Alabama, and 
Charleston, South Carolina we can get some information 

a Earle Edward Eubank, A Study of Family Desertion (Chicago, 1916), 
pp. 15-16. Italians, who furnished 7 per cent of the desertion cases and 
ranked fourth for the total cases of all causes, ranked twenty-first for the 
percentage of desertion cases. 

3 See Appen. B, Table 28. See Appen. B, Table 28. 



on the general character of the families with women heads 
(Table 13) . s First, in all three cities, both in 1910 and in 
1920, the proportion of families with female heads was 
smaller among the mulattoes than among the blacks. How- 




CITIES, 1920 AND 1910 






Families with 

Families with 





Women Heads 


Women Heads 









Nashville, Tenn. . . . 








Birmingham, Ala. . . 








Charleston, S.C 








ever, the proportion of families with women heads among 
both blacks as well as mulattoes was significantly smaller 
in Birmingham, where half of the men were in industrial 
occupations, than among both mulattoes and blacks in 
Nashville and Charleston, where Negro men were employed 
chiefly in domestic and personal service. In the latter two 
cities from a third to two-fifths of the families had female 

s These families represent a sample of about a sixth of the families in 
Nashville and Charleston and a fourth of the families in Birmingham from 
each of the federal enumeration districts in these cities (see n. 3, p. 127, for 
description of these families). 


heads, whereas in Birmingham approximately a fourth of 
both the black and the mulatto families were in this cate- 

In regard to the marital status of the women heads of 
Negro families in these cities, information from the original 
census returns gives a more accurate picture than one gets 
from the published data on the marital status of Negro 
women. The majority of these women from two-thirds to 
four-fifths were classified as widowed (see Table 14). From 
what is known concerning the marital status of Negro 
women who describe themselves as widowed, we can only as- 
sume, as in the case of the published census figures, that some 
of these widowed women had either been deserted or were 
unmarried mothers. 6 But, in addition to the usual categories 
of widowed and divorced, we have been able to classify these 
women as to whether they were separated from their hus- 
bands or were living irregularly with a man in the house- 
hold. 7 According to the figures in Table 14, in some cases 
as many as 20 per cent of the women heads of families 
were separated. In all likelihood, the majority of these 
women had been deserted by their husbands. It is also 
probable that some of the women who were living irregu- 
larly with men, but reported themselves as married to other 
men, had been deserted. In fact, it is also very likely that 
some women who called themselves divorced had been de- 
serted. When these various facts are considered, it seems 
reasonable to conclude that, so far as these figures are repre- 
sentative of Negro families in southern cities, about a fifth 

6 See n. 7, p. 129, and n. 8, p. 131. 

'See n. 3, p. 127, for method of classifying these women heads of 


3 2 9 

of the families with women heads represent desertion on the 
part of men. 

The original census returns throw some light on the gen- 
eral economic and social status of these women. From three- 
fourths to four-fifths of the black women heads of the fami- 




CITIES, 1920 AND 1910 






Marital Status 

Marital Status 






















6 7 


1 06 





































lies were employed in domestic service; whereas, among the 
mulattoes, not only was a smaller proportion employed in 
domestic service, but, apparently, a smaller proportion de- 
pended upon their own labor for a livelihood. 8 Moreover, 
an almost negligible percentage of the black women were 
homeowners while about 10 per cent of the mulatto women 
owned their homes. It is also significant that practically all 
the homeowners among the black women heads of families 
as well as the mulattoes were widowed. 9 

8 See Appen. B, Table 23. See Appen. B, Table 22. 


For Birmingham we have information on the extent of 
desertion among the cases handled by the Red Cross Family 
Service for the period 192 $-29 During this period the 
number of colored major care cases increased from 502, or 
1 1. 2 per cent of a total of 4,468 cases, to 2,698, or 25 per cent 
of the 10,853 cases handled in 1929. For the years 1926-28 
about 20 per cent of the colored cases were deserted women. 
However, in 1929 after the effects of the economic crisis be- 
gan to be felt, the proportion of married couples increased, 
while the proportion of deserted women declined to 15 per 
cent. The following excerpt from the case record of a de- 
serted woman, twenty-eight years of age and the mother of 
five children, living in a two-room house in an alley for 
which she paid eight dollars a month, will throw some light 
on the character of some of these deserted women and their 
sexual relations: 

Man's native home in Alabama. Woman did not know where he 
was reared. Father died a long time ago. Mother, living. No brothers 
or sisters. Family had very good health record. Fairly good home 
training, common school education. Religious and moral influences 
very good. Parents were farmers and he always worked on a farm. 

Woman's home was LaFayette, Alabama. Father died when she 
was real young. Mother still living; has four brothers and three sisters. 
Her mother had ten children, of whom eight are living. One died with 
T.B. She was given a good home training; religious and moral influ- 
ences not very good. Very quiet type, but was a mother before she 
was married. She was living away from home at the time. She was 
reared on a farm and had to work in the fields most of the time. Did 
not go to school very much. Husband was not the father of her ille- 
gitimate child, but another man. 

Man and woman lived together very agreeable for a while. He pro- 
vided very well for his family during their stay together. They were 

10 From the records of the Red Cross Family Service, Birmingham, Ala- 


the parents of three children, and he deserted when the last one was a 
few months old, leaving her with nothing to live on. He left town 
with another man's wife. Woman has always been interested in her 
children and tried to provide for them. She seems very childish about 
planning for them. After her husband left, all her people left; she be- 
came the mother of another child. This man promised to support her 
children but after a while he left too. The neighbors helped during 
her confinement. 

Later, it was found out where the father of her last child was living. 
He was asked to support her. He sent a doctor to see one of the chil- 
dren who was sick. Her oldest daughter, unmarried, had a child. 

Family desertion among Negroes in southern cities is in 
a large measure only one aspect of the disorganized family 
life and unregulated sex behavior of these newcomers to the 
city. Desertion is often found in conjunction with other 
types of loose sex behavior, as is apparent even in the 
sketchy details recorded in the case records of social agen- 
cies. Let us glance at the record of a twenty-four-year-old 
woman living on the outskirts of Birmingham: 

Live in Eureka, an ordinary type of Negro settlement. Immediate 
section composed of a row of shot-gun houses, built closely together, 
and the surroundings uncleanly and undesirable, but the common 
situation of the Negro. Two rooms all furnished, but the house un- 
kempt and dirty. Conditions unsanitary. 

Woman apparently middle aged, pregnant and suffering from it. 
Visitor was amazed to learn she was young. Untidy, barefooted and 
unclean in person. Children dirty and ill. Willing to accept any as- 
sistance. Even though in pain she did not show any sign of impa- 
tience. She answered all questions readily and most frankly. She ad- 
mitted her circumstances were due to her own misconduct. Was very 
grateful and cooperative. Reconciled to her fate but repentant and 
anxious to be self supporting. 

Woman was born in Montgomery County, one of nine children. 
She lived on the farm with her parents until she was 21. Baptist. 
Apparently lived a clean, moral life as long as she was with her parents 
in the country. Came to Birmingham in 1921 to earn her living to 


relieve her widow mother. Father died when she was a child. Took in 

washings for her living and managed very nicely. Met B , a 

laborer in the city, and married him in 1922. 

Man was born in Gunsville, Alabama. Common laborer. Lived 
with her for two years. Got along nicely but he became shiftless and 
left his wife and baby. Gave no excuses and no whereabouts. One 
child was born in 1923, one in 1925. 

Woman allowed a man to live with her in open cohabitation. He 
knew she had no divorce. He promised to marry her all the time. 
One child was born to them in 1927. He was a carpenter. He has now 
deserted her and the children and she is nine months pregnant. Has 
a mother living in the country, a tenant farmer with seven children 
and six grandchildren to care for already, in a three room house. A 
sister lived near her but she has gone to visit the mother. All the other 
sisters are married and have large families of their own. 

When we turn from these southern cities to New York 
City, we find that there also desertion cases constitute a 
large portion of the cases of dependency handled by social 
agencies. An analysis of the records of the Charity Organiza- 
tion Society over a period of ten years from 1924 to 1934 
showed that both the number and the proportion of Negro 
"under care" families served by this agency have increased 
as the economic crisis deepened." In the area" for which 
figures are given in Table 15 the number of Negro "under 
care" families increased during the four years from 1924 to 
1928, although their numbers relative to all families receiv- 
ing such assistance changed only slightly. However, begin- 
ning with the fiscal year 1928-29 there was not only an in- 

" The Charity Organization Society defines an "under care" case as "a 
family or person for which the agency assumes responsibility for instituting 
some study and treatment. This category is intended to include all cases 
which, as the result of the preliminary diagnosis, are accepted for care with 
the intention of giving the case such study and treatment as seem indicated/' 

" The area for which figures are given in Table 15 includes a slightly 
larger area than the Harlem community described on pp. 307 ff., above. 



crease in the number of Negro families but also a decided 
increase in the proportion in the total number of families 
receiving major services. From 1931 onward Negro families 
constituted close to 45 per cent of the total. The slight de- 
cline in the proportion of Negro families during 1933-34 

TABLE 15* 












Number. . . . 












of all 












* The fiscal year begins October i . 

was doubtless due to the fact that the majority of dependent 
Negro families were cared for by the Home Relief Bureau. 
In fact, the records of the Home Relief Bureau offer the only 
adequate index to the widespread dependency in the Harlem 
community. 13 In this community during the first week of 
September, 1935, there were 24,293 Negro families, not in- 
cluding unattached men and women, receiving relief from 
the Home Relief Bureau. 14 

During the fiscal year 1928-29 the Charity Organization 

x * See Map V, p. 310. 

** According to a census by the New York City Housing Authority, there 
were 56,157 Negro families in the Harlem community as defined in our 



Society gave assistance to 571 Negro "under care" families 
in the Harlem community. After the economic crisis be- 
came more acute, the number rose to 1,547 during the fiscal 
year 1930-31. Of the 571 families receiving assistance dur- 
ing the first period, 101, or 17.7 per cent, were desertion 
cases; while during the latter period, 1930-31, the propor- 
tion of deserted families declined to 14.8 per cent (Table 16). 




FOR THE FISCAL YEARS 1928-29 AND 1930-31 































* Includes 3 orphans, i legally separated man, and 2 unknown, 
f Divorced. 

The majority about three-fifths of the cases handled by 
the Charity Organization Society represented migrants who 
had come to New York City during and subsequent to the 
World War. Although specific information is lacking con- 
cerning the birthplace of about a third of the cases, the 
records simply stating that they were born in the United 
States, the majority of the cases were doubtless persons of 
southern birth. 15 However, the records contained specific in- 
formation to the effect that more than a fourth of the cases 
were of West Indian origin and that about 5 per cent were 
natives of New York City. 

*s In 1930 over 40 per cent of the Negroes in New York City were born 
in southern states. 


An analysis of the desertion cases revealed that 44 per 
cent of the 101 cases handled in 1928-29 were new cases; 
whereas 155, or 67.4 per cent, of the 230 cases handled in 
1930-31 were new. Among the desertion cases there was a 
larger proportion of families that had come to New York 
City since the war than among the dependency cases as a 
whole. As to origin, they showed the same proportion of 
southern birth and West Indian background. As far as one 
could learn the occupational status of the deserters, they 
were employed chiefly in unskilled occupations and domestic 
service. 16 In the case of the deserted women, we find that 
65 per cent of the first group and 56 per cent of the second 
had been engaged in gainful occupations. In both groups 
nearly 90 per cent of the regularly employed women were in 
domestic service. Fifty per cent of the deserted women and 
their spouses were between thirty and forty years of age. 

The case records contain information on the character 
of the households and the composition of the deserted fami- 
lies. About 9 per cent of the 101 families in the first group 
had one or two relatives in the household, whereas 19 per 
cent of the 230 families in the second group were living with 
one to five relatives. Moreover, there were lodgers in 6 of 
the families of the first group; and in 20 families of the sec- 
ond group. The increase in the number of families with rela- 
tives and lodgers in the household was probably due to the 
effects of the depression during the later period. However, 
there was practically no change in the average number of 
children in these families, the average being 2.3 in 1928-29 

16 The usual occupations of 70 per cent of the deserting men were re- 
corded for the fiscal year 1928-29 and of 56 per cent for 1930-31. In the 
first group 48 of the 70 men and in the second group 79 of the 129 men were 
in unskilled labor and domestic service. 


and 2.2 in 1930-31. In both groups about the same propor- 
tion of families had children away from home and in insti- 

In Chicago, where large numbers of migrants from the 
lower South have settled since the war, the trend of family 
desertion during recent years may be studied in relation to 
the economic and cultural organization of the Negro com- 
munity. Here, as in other cities, family desertion generally 
comes to the attention of both private and public welfare 
agencies in connection with dependency. From 1921 to 1927 
the number of Negro desertion or nonsupport cases that 
came before the Court of Domestic Relations increased al- 
most 100 per cent. In 1927 there were 813 cases, or 19.5 
per cent of the 4,168 cases handled by the court. 17 In the 
same city an examination of the records of the United Chari- 
ties for the period 1921-28 showed that the proportion of 
Negro families receiving major services increased suddenly 
from about a tenth in the first two years to a little more 
than a fifth of all cases during the last five years. 18 Accord- 
ing to the reports of the Chicago Urban League, the sudden 
increase in the proportion of Negro families seeking assist- 
ance from the United Charities coincided with a marked in- 
crease in unemployment among Negroes in ig24. 19 Of the 
Negro cases handled by this agency during the seven years 
indicated, less than half were reported as deserted families. 
A check of the records of the United Charities showed that 
this agency had handled 750 Negro cases of family desertion 

J 7 See E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Family in Chicago (Chicago, 1932), 
p. 148, n. i. 

18 Ibid., pp. 148-49. 
Ibid., p. 148, n. 2. 


during the two and a half years from January i, 1926, to 
June 30, I928. 20 

Two-thirds of these cases were located in the South Side 
community. 21 However, they were very unevenly dis- 
tributed; and, what is of importance to us here, when on 
the basis of these cases desertion rates were calculated for 
the seven zones marking the expansion of the community, 
the rates showed a distinct downward trend (see Table 17). 
Although there were only nine cases in the first zone, these 
cases amounted to 2.5 per cent of the families in that area. 
The first zone, which was just outside the Loop, was an 
area of extreme physical deterioration and social disorgani- 
zation and was fast becoming depopulated. The one hun- 
dred deserted families in the next zone, which was similar 
in character to the first zone, constituted 2.6 per cent of the 
resident families. These relatively high rates coincided with 
the high dependency rates eight families out of one hun- 
dred being supported by charity in the first two zones. In 
the third zone there was a slight decline in the desertion 
rate, although there were other signs of family disorganiza- 
tion. The third zone was, in fact, the bright-light area of 
the Negro community, there being little family life and con- 
siderable vice in the area. The Negro in this area was likely 
to exhibit greater sophistication in city ways. Therefore, it 
is not surprising that the nonsupport rate, based upon cases 

20 Social agencies experience great difficulty in ascertaining the true mari- 
tal condition of migrant Negro families. For example, of the 248 Negro 
cases 129 major service and 119 minor service in the case records of the 
Central District of the United Charities during January, 1927, marriage 
was verified in 70 cases; an unsuccessful attempt was made to verify 55 
cases; and marriage was unverified in 122 cases, one case being classified 
as unknown (see ibid., p. 150, n. i). 

21 See Map IV, p. 303, above. 



brought before the Court of Domestic Relations, showed 
an increase over the rates in the first two zones where the 
less sophisticated migrants from the South lived. 

A significant decline in the desertion rate did not appear 
until the fourth zone, which was distinguished from the first 
three zones in several respects. First, the rate of homeowner- 
ship reached the average for the city, whereas in the first 

TABLE 17* 












Family desertions: 
Jan. i, 1926 June 
30, 1028 









2 S 

2 6 

2 I 

I "% 

i i 

O 4. 

O 2 

* To be read in conjunction with Map IV, p. 303. 

zone no families owned their homes, and in the second and 
third zones the rate of homeownership was below the aver- 
age for the city. Then, too, both the dependency and the 
illiteracy rate declined sharply in the fourth zone. In this 
zone illiteracy was about one-sixth as high as in the first 
zone, and the dependency rate was almost half that in the 
third zone. 

The decline in the desertions in the next three zones was 
even more significant. From eleven in each 1,000 resident 
families in the fifth zone, the rate declined to two in the 
seventh. The gradual disappearance of this form of family 
disorganization coincided with increasing stabilization of 


family and community life. This was indicated, first, by the 
significant increase in homeownership in these three zones. 
The rate of homeownership mounted rapidly from 8.3 and 
11.4 per cent in the fifth and sixth zones to 29.8 in the sev- 
enth. Then there was a decline in the proportion of migrant 
families in these three areas, in conjunction with an increas- 
ing proportion of mulattoes in the population. The higher 
economic status of the inhabitants of these zones was indi- 
cated by the fact that there was an increasing proportion of 
men and women in professional occupations and a smaller 
proportion of women employed. Along with desertions, both 
dependency and nonsupport tended to vanish. 

When one examines the records of the social agencies con- 
cerning these deserted families, they read very much like 
the records which were quoted from Birmingham, as witness 
the record of the United Charities on a deserted woman 
living in the second zone: 

Mrs. G. in office asking assistance because Mr. G. had deserted 
her in June. Mrs. G. was born in Port Gibson, Mississippi, and moved 
to Missouri in 1924. She went to school in Mississippi to the 8th 
grade. She met her husband in St. Louis and knew him 10 months 
before marriage. They came to Chicago directly after marriage. Her 
husband was a good provider, but abused her, beating her and quar- 
relling continually. He is big headed. This caused the separation. He 
does not drink, but is very hard to get on with, as he is continually 

fighting. She thinks he has gone off with W , a woman who 

lived next door. She does not know how long he has been friendly 

with her. He left her in June but stayed at 29 Cottage Grove 

Avenue until the first of August, when she last saw him. She does not 
know where he is now. She went to C.D.R. in August, swearing out a 
warrant for him but the officers were unable to find him. 32 

" Quoted in Frazier, op. cit., p. 159. 


More intimate documents, such as life and family his- 
tories, secured from these deserted women and their former 
husbands, furnish a wealth of information on their inner 
lives, their attitudes, wishes, and conceptions of life, and 
how these have been affected by the urban environment. 23 
In many cases these broken families were once well adjusted 
to the simple rural southern community, where the sym- 
pathetic relationships existing between the members of the 
family were supported by the church, the lodge, and the 
customs of the community. But in the city, with its many 
attractions and conflicting standards of behavior, divergent 
interests are developed and individualistic wishes become 
dominant. But, despite these various forces in the urban 
environment, the sympathetic ties sometimes draw the de- 
serters back to their families. The behavior of Negro de- 
serters, who are likely to return to their families even after 
several years of absence, often taxes the patience of social 
workers whose plans for their families are constantly dis- 

In many cases, of course, the dissolution of the simple 
family organization has begun before the family reaches the 
northern city. But, if these families have managed to pre- 
serve their integrity until they reach the northern city, 
poverty, ignorance, and color force them to seek homes in 
deteriorated slum areas from which practically all institu- 
tional life has disappeared. Hence, at the same time that 
these simple rural families are losing their internal cohesion, 
they are being freed from the controlling force of public 
opinion and communal institutions. Family desertion 
among Negroes in cities appears, then, to be one of the in- 

a * Ibid,, pp. 165-78. 


evitable consequences of the impact of urban life on the 
simple family organization and folk culture which the Negro 
has evolved in the rural South. The distribution of deser- 
tions in relation to the general economic and cultural or- 
ganization of Negro communities that have grown up in our 
American cities shows in a striking manner the influence of 
selective factors in the process of adjustment to the urban 



Not many years after the Civil War a woman presented, 
as typical of the demoralized family and sex relations of the 
newly emancipated Negroes in southern cities, the following 
picture : 

The shanty is black within and without through age and weather, 
but more through dirt and grime; and the decaying floor is filthier 
than the ground outside, though that is a sink. There is no chair or 
stool nothing to sit upon but the wreck of a bedstead, which holds 
a nest of what was once straw, a feather pillow which trots of itself, 
and rags of wool and cotton which are equally smutty and frisky. 
The only bit of furniture beside a small table, and three children are 
rubbing off the slime of it with potato skins left yesterday for they 
get a meal some days and these parings furnish their only today. 
Under the table is a battered wash-dish in which they stir their hoe- 
cake, when they can get any, and a broken skillet in which to bake 
it; but wood is scarce to them, and only now and then can they steal 
a bit. A black woman sits on a log, with half-a-dozen small specimens 
of humanity about her, and of all shades of black, brown, and yellow. 
She has eight children, and was married once, but only two of the 
children belonged to her husband. "Where is your husband?" "Is he 
living?" you ask. "Dunno, missis, don't care; he may go to de debbil 
fur all I knows and cares." Two of the children are partially blind 
through measles, and a third is a cripple. The oldest daughter is 
married, and with her husband and child lives at home; and the sec- 
ond daughter, a very black and bright girl of fifteen, has a yellow 
baby, which knows no father; and all this numerous family live in 
one small room, and all sleep together. The three mothers are all 
members of the Methodist church. 1 

1 E. B. Emery, Letters from the South, on the Social, Intellectual and Moral 
Condition of the Colored People (Boston, 1880), pp. 9-10. 



In the foregoing picture of Negro illegitimacy in a south- 
ern city we have all the factors involved in the general prob- 
lem: poverty, ignorance, the absence of family traditions 
and community controls, and finally the sexual exploitation 
of the subordinate race by the dominant race. Moreover, 
this description could be matched today by cases in south- 
ern cities where the sexual behavior of Negroes has been in- 
fluenced by similar social forces. But, of course, such cases 
of illegitimacy, involving the degree of poverty, social dis- 
organization, and personal demoralization represented in the 
description are not typical. Then, too, it is very probable 
that illegitimacy is not so widespread among Negroes today 
as during the years following the Civil War. 

It is impossible to draw any conclusions from available 
statistics concerning either the volume or the trend of ille- 
gitimacy among Negroes. 2 Take, for example, the statistics 
on Negro illegitimacy in the District of Columbia, which 
have been used more frequently than any other source as 
a basis of generalization on the problem. In 1878, 9.8 per 
cent of the Negro births were illegitimate; but, during the 
next year, the percentage of illegitimate births mounted 
suddenly to 17 per 100 live births. By 1881 a fifth of the 
births were illegitimate, and the percentage fluctuated be- 
tween a fifth and a fourth until 1910. Although after 1910 
there was on the whole a downward trend, since 1929 the 
rate has mounted steadily until it has reached its former 
level of 20 per cent. The same is true of a few northern and 
southern cities for which there are statistics on Negro ille- 
gitimacy extending as far back as 1900. In Baltimore Negro 

3 See Table i, Appen. B, for statistics for the birth-registration area. For 
statistics on illegitimacy among both whites and Negroes in various cities 
consult Tables 33-47 of Appen. B. 


illegitimacy declined slightly from 26.2 per cent at the open- 
ing of the century to 21.5 in 1929. During the same period 
in Mobile, Alabama, the rate has fluctuated considerably. 
At the beginning of the present century it was close to 27 
per cent but declined to 11.3 per cent in 1912. However, the 
rate suddenly mounted the next year and reached 27 during 
the war period; then it declined to 23 per cent. However, in 
Hartford, Connecticut, where there have been compara- 
tively few Negro births, the illegitimacy rate has declined 
on the whole during the present century despite the influx 
of Negroes during and since the war. In Sommerville, Mas- 
sachusetts, where the Negro population has remained small, 
there have been only six illegitimate births scattered over 
a period of thirty years. Since 1900 the proportion of Negro 
illegitimate births in Evansville, Indiana, according to the 
health records, has fluctuated considerably. At the opening 
of the century the proportion of illegitimate births was 
about 14 per cent; but, after declining until it reached 9 
per cent in 1906, it increased again and, after fluctuating 
about 20 per cent, reached 30.8 per cent in 1929. 

Records of Negro illegitimacy for shorter periods in sev- 
eral northern and southern cities may also be cited. In 
Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia, the rate has remained 
close to 20 per cent since 1920. However, in Birmingham, 
Alabama, the rate has mounted from 12 to 1 6 per cent since 
1918. The rate in Philadelphia since 1920 has closely paral- 
leled that in Birmingham, Alabama; whereas in Trenton, 
New Jersey, since 1916 it has increased from 10 to 18 per 
cent. In Chicago it was found that from 10 to 15 per cent of 
the Negro maternity cases in the Cook County Hospital for 


the six years 1923-28 were unmarried mothers. 3 In New 
York City in 1930 there were 379 Negro illegitimate births 
according to the records of the health department and 434 
according to data of the social service agencies. 4 On the basis 
of these figures, the Negro rate was between 5 and 6 per 

Generally, when attempts have been made in the past 
to fathom the causes of the persistence of a high rate of 
illegitimacy among Negroes, especially in cities where the 
race has made perceptible progress economically and educa- 
tionally, students have gloomily attributed it to some in- 
herent moral degeneracy of the Negro. Hoffman, writing at 
the close of the last century, concluded that statistics of 
crime and illegitimacy furnished proof that "neither reli- 
gion nor education has influenced to any appreciable degree 
the moral progress of the race" and that "the race as a whole 
has gone backward rather than forward. " s This opinion was 
not so harsh as that of the northern-born mulatto who cli- 
maxed his denunciation of the loose sex habits of Negroes 
with the assertion that "illegitimate motherhood is rather 
a recommendation in the eyes of a prospective husband." 6 
Even as late as 1930 a writer, who has often proposed coloni- 

a See the author's The Negro Family in Chicago (Chicago, 1932), p. 180. 
From 35 to 50 per cent of all Negro births in Chicago during this period took 
place in the Cook County Hospital. 

* Ruth Reed, The Illegitimate Family (New York, 1934), pp. 119-20. 

s Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro 
(New York, 1896), p. 236. See The Negro Family in Chicago, chap, ii, for a 
discussion of the various theories concerning the demoralization of Negro 
family life. 

6 William Hannibal Thomas, The American Negro: What He Was, What 
He Is, and What He May Become (New York, 1901), p. 179. 


zation as the only means of saving America from the moral 
menace of the Negro, regarded the high Negro illegitimacy 
rate in the District of Columbia as "one of the manifest 
measures of the indifferent success achieved upon the part 
of the white, during this long contact in mediating the ideals, 
the morals, of Christianity" to the Negro. 7 

Although illegitimacy is from five to ten times as high 
among Negroes as among whites, these opinions concerning 
the moral degeneracy of the Negro obviously reflect the 
various attitudes of the writers rather than provide explana- 
tions of the Negro's behavior. Shannon's antipathy toward 
the mulatto was probably responsible for his absurd argu- 
ment that the Negro's attitude toward illegitimacy is due 
to false ideals of equality which are encouraged in the Dis- 
trict of Columbia. It is scarcely necessary to point out that 
in most of the northern cities, where the Negro enjoys far 
more equality than in the District of Columbia, the illegiti- 
macy rates are much lower. But, as a matter of fact, there 
are relatively few white fathers of colored illegitimate off- 
spring. In Chicago, for the two-and-a-half-year period be- 
ginning January, 1926, there were only six white and one 
Mexican father among the 235 cases in the records of the 
Cook County Hospital. 8 Dr. Reed in her study of the situa- 
tion in New York City found that, among "the 962 cases in 
which the Health Department had data for the race or color 
of the father as well as of the mother, there were only 18 
instances of race crossing reported. Fifteen of these were 
instances of Negro women who had white fathers of their 
children, while three were white women who had Negro 

7 A. H. Shannon, The Negro in Washington: A Study in Race Amalgama- 
tion (New York, 1930), p. in. 

8 The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 182. 


fathers of their babies." 9 Although statistical data of a con- 
clusive nature are lacking, from what we know of racial mix- 
ture in the South, the social and economic subordination of 
the Negro has been more fruitful of illegitimacy than the 
enjoyment of equality. 

The reaction of Thomas, a cultured mulatto from New 
England, simply expressed his revulsion of feeling toward 
the disorganized Negroes of the South with whom he was 
identified by custom and public opinion. Similarly, many 
white investigators have been shocked and disgusted when 
they discovered in some cities that three-quarters of a cen- 
tury after slavery a quarter of the Negro births were illegiti- 
mate. But what these investigators fail to realize is that 
the constant flow of simple peasant folk from rural districts 
to the poverty and disorganization of city slums constantly 
re-creates the problem of unmarried motherhood. 

That most of the unmarried Negro mothers are new- 
comers to the city is revealed in various studies. In New 
York City in 1930 about a fifth of the Negro women who 
became unmarried mothers were nonresidents. 10 This was 
about 3 per cent less than among white women who seem- 
ingly seek the anonymity of the city more frequently to es- 
cape the censure of their home communities. However, a 
more significant fact relative to their migration to the city 
appears in regard to the birthplace of the unmarried mothers 
and the length of their residence in the city. Of 447 un- 
married mothers for whom information was available coming 
before social agencies during the years 1922-23 in New 
York City, 70 per cent were born in southern states or in 

^ Op. cit., p. 170. 
10 Ibid., p. no. 


the West Indies. 11 Three-fourths of the women born in the 
South had been in New York City less than five years. A 
similar situation was found in regard to unmarried Negro 
mothers in Chicago, where about 80 per cent of them were 
born in the South and over half of them had been in the city 
less than five years. 12 Moreover, life-histories and case rec- 
ords revealed that many of the unmarried mothers had 
wandered, with or without their families, about the country 
before settling in the cities where they gave birth to their 
illegitimate offspring. 13 A large proportion of the unmarried 
mothers are comparatively young. Of the group of 300 un- 
married mothers studied in Chicago, 50 were under seven- 
teen years of age, and 165, or 55 per cent, were under 
twenty. 14 In the group studied in New York City, 56 per 
cent were under twenty years of age. 15 Although their sex 
delinquency is due in part to the lack of parental supervi- 
sion, it often represents the persistence in the urban environ- 
ment of folkways that were relatively harmless in the rural 
community. In their behavior one can often see exemplified 
the truth of Sumner's observation that, "so long as customs 
are simple, naive, and unconscious, they do not produce evil 
in character, no matter what they are. If reflection is awak- 
ened and the mores cannot satisfy it, then doubt arises; 
individual character will then be corrupted and the society 
will degenerate. " l6 

Many of the unmarried Negro mothers in our cities have 

11 Ruth Reed, Negro Illegitimacy in New York City (New York, 1926), 
p. 49. 

" The Negro Family in Chicago, pp. 180-81. 

** Ibid., p. 194. I4 Ibid., p. 271. 

* Reed, The Illegitimate Family in New York City, p. 118. 

16 William Graham Sumner, Folkways (New York, 1906), p. 420. 


never known normal family life. Case records of 235 un- 
married mothers in Chicago showed that less than an eighth 
had come from normal families. In a third of the 235 cases 
the father or mother was dead, the parents were divorced or 
separated, or one or the other parent had deserted the 
family. This is typical of cases in other cities. In Washing- 
ton a thirty-year-old unmarried woman, born outside of 
Atlanta, Georgia, told the following story of her family 
background and how she happened to come to the city : 

My mother died when I was a year and six months old. I would 
have been happy if I'd died then too. An old lady named Miss Mariah 
took care of me. She explained to me about my mother. My father 
died when I was seven years old. She took care of me till I become 
twelve, going into my thirteenth, when she died. Ever since I been 
taking care of myself, butting about. I didn't have no one to teach 
me, send me to school and give me an education. Some white people 
taught me a lot of things. It's funny how you can get such a few 
favors out of colored people. I had never seen a train till I was leben. 
It like to scared me to death. [A girl friend who] had been to New 
York and Washington and was home when Miss Mariah died took me 
to her house after the burial. She told me all about the city. I begged 
her to bring me with her. 17 

Since these unmarried mothers are a part of the great 
army of poorer migrants who go to the city, they are natur- 
ally found in the deteriorated and disorganized sections of 
the Negro community. In our study of illegitimacy in the 
city of Chicago, it was found that illegitimacy was closely 
tied up with the organization of the Negro community. For 
example, the highest rate of illegitimacy was found in the 
first zone, which was in the slum area just outside the central 
business district where the poorer migrants from the South 
first settled. 18 In this zone 2.3 per cent of the mothers of 

J 7 Manuscript document. l8 See Map IV, p. 303, above. 


childbearing age were unmarried mothers. The rate declined 
in the successive zones until it reached two-tenths of i per 
cent in the seventh or outermost zone. 19 One needs only to 
read the description of one of the neighborhoods in which 
illegitimacy flourishes to see to what extent the environ- 
ment in which these women live influences their sex be- 
havior. An unmarried mother, just fourteen years of age, 
gave the following description of the building where she met 
her "beaux": 

That building where my cousin lives at now is terrible. I remember 
one time they shot crap from one o'clock at night on up till in the 
morning. You know what that building ain't nothin' but for .... 
[female homosexuals]. I heard so much about .... [female homo- 
sexuals] so one day I asked my cousin what was a .... [female homo- 
sexual] and so she said she would show me some of them. She said it 
was two .... [female homosexuals] in that building and they got to 
fighting and one pulled the other's clothes off. I tried to get her to 
tell me what a .... [female homosexual] was but she never did tell 
me. Some of them women in that building was a hustling. You know, 
they sell themselves. A man go up there, you know, and then they 
charge them $2.00. Men used to go up there all the time. There was 
an old woman there who used to come up to my cousin's and she said 
to me one day, "Say, honey, when are you going up to my house and 
sleep with me?" She used to pat me down, and I turned around to 
her and one of the men in the house told her to let me alone I was 
a little girl. I remember one time all the girls and boys were out there 
in front of her house and she said for us all to go inside she couldn't 
make no money out there with all of us around. Police used to go up 
there and raid the place all the time. One night I was looking out the 

window and the patrol backed up to the door and I called L right 

away she ran and locked up the trunk. She said, "I got to get rid of 
this moonshine." They didn't come in my cousin's. They took men 
and women out of that building some just had step-ins on and some 
of the men were bare foot. That place was so bad. I learned too much 

19 See The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 189. 


down there. Well, I'm glad that I did learn what I did for I can keep 
out of trouble from now on. 20 

The account which this sexually precocious girl furnished 
concerning her surroundings shows clearly that it is need- 
less to postulate a "compelling sexual appetite," as McCord 
has done, as an explanation of the conduct of girls who 
live in such an environment. 21 We often find in the life- 
histories of the unmarried mothers that their first interest 
in sexual knowledge has been aroused by the play groups 
in these disorganized areas. Consequently, their attitudes 
toward sex as well as their behavior reflect the attitudes of 
the groups in which sexual knowledge gives them status. 
We can see the influence of the play group in the following 
document written by a young unmarried mother : 

One day a girl friend of mine told me that a boy name D 

W said that he seen me and another girl coming out of the 

bathroom with two boys. The next day I seen him I asked him he 
said that he did not say it. Every day I began to see him more. One 
day he asked me to go with him I said yes. Every day I would come 
home with him. All the girls was jealous of him they use to tell me 
that he go with another girl. He said that he did not I believe him. 

One hot summer night I was in Ellis Park on 37th I met D . I 

asked him where did he live he said 36 Cottage Grove, last fl. 

After a while along came a girl name L B and her boy friend. 

We all sat out in the Park a while He asked me if I would let him 
have it I said no The girl and boy kept on telling me to go head it 
won't hurt you I said I was afraid After a while I did. After he 
took me home the next night I did it again. One Sunday I was in the 
show I met him After the show him and his boy friend and a girl 

30 See ibid., pp. 194-97, for a history of this girl. 

21 Charles H. McCord, The American Negro as a Dependent, Defective, and 
Delinquent (Nashville, Term., 1914), p. 106. The author states that "a com- 
pelling sexual appetite" nullifies the desire on the part of the Negro girl to 
maintain her honor. 


I don't know who she was but the boy is name J- 

went over to his house. J started the radio. We dance a while 

The boys turn out the light I and D went in the other room. 

After that he taken me home I began to love him very much I thought 
it was no body like him." 

The contacts which the unmarried mother has with the 
man who is the father of her child is often of a very casual 
nature. In many instances they know only the first name 
of the man. Because of the anonymity afforded by the 
city, married men are often responsible. Dr. Reed found 
that about a fourth of the fathers of illegitimate offspring, 
concerning whose marital status information was available, 
were married. 23 The city streets, as well as the moving-pic- 
ture houses, theaters, and dance halls, provide occasions for 
contacts which often lead to illegitimacy. The following is 
an excerpt from the life-history of a naive newcomer to 
the city: 

We just got acquainted ourselves and how I got acquainted was I 
got lost. I was on yth Street to a five and ten cent store. He was 
coming down the street. I stop him and asked him how to get back 
home. I was shamed to tell him I couldn't read the names on the 
car. I just guess he considered the matter and took me home. Then 
he asked me could he come to see me. I stopped him on the corner 
cause I didn't know what the lady would say. He asked me where I 
lived, if I had a friend, about my people, and he showed me different 
places. He asked to call to see me and take me to the movies. I was 
14 and had never been to a show. First time he come to see me he 
took me to the show. I can remember it just as good. It was a love 
picture about a boy falling in love with a poor girl. After the show 
he took me to a cafe. We had sandwiches and tea. I don't drink 
nothing, I ain't never drunk nothing. Then he taken me back home. 2 * 

" Quoted in The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 199. 
The Illegitimate Family in New York City, p. 165. 
*4 Manuscript document. 


The detail concerning the romantic element in the picture 
suggests the manner in which the city environment gives a 
new definition of sex. Although the majority of the un- 
married mothers have never gone beyond the eighth grade, 
they are often influenced in their attitudes toward sex by 
the printed page. 25 As a rule the literature with which they 
are acquainted is restricted to such magazines as True Sto- 
ries and True Confessions. Significantly enough, one girl re- 
counted in her life-history a story from one of these maga- 
zines that centered about the romantic career of an un- 
married mother. 

Naturally, the vast majority of the unmarried mothers 
come from the lower economic strata in the Negro popula- 
tion. Their parents or, where they are dependent upon their 
own labor, they themselves are engaged in domestic service 
or, as in a city like Chicago, in unskilled labor. 26 Often where 
young unmarried mothers are living with their parents, very 
frequently with only a mother, they are without parental 
oversight because of the employment of the mother. How- 
ever, many of these working mothers make sincere efforts 
to control their daughters' behavior; but, because of vicious 
surroundings and the freedom which the city affords, their 
diligence is often of no avail. As one widowed mother in 
Chicago sadly remarked concerning her wayward daughter, 
"I talk and talk and teach, and, when I have done all I 
know how to do, I can do no more. Children in these days 
are a heart break." 

3 * See Reed, The Illegitimate Family in New York City, pp. 132-33; and 
Frazier, The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 272. 

36 In the New York City group studied by Dr. Reed, about three-fourths 
of the unmarried Negro mothers were in domestic service (The Illegitimate 
Family in New York City, p. 127), while in Chicago about a half of the 300 
unmarried mothers were so employed. 


The experience of unmarried motherhood for some of 
these girls is sometimes the beginning of a series of such ex- 
periences. Of the 379 unmarried Negro mothers studied by 
Dr. Reed, 47 had had two children; 10, three children; 8, 
four children; and 4 as many as seven or more. 27 In our 
study of 300 unmarried mothers in Chicago the case records 
revealed that about 13 per cent of them had had more than 
one child. 28 That more unmarried mothers do not have sev- 
eral illegitimate children is hardly due to their reformation 
but to the fact that they acquire knowledge about birth 
control and abortions. Nor should it be overlooked that 
venereal diseases play some part in preventing conception. 
On the whole, the unmarried mothers in the city exhibit 
less of the elemental maternal sympathy toward their chil- 
dren which one finds in rural communities in the South. 29 
In the alleys of southern cities as well as in the tenements in 
northern cities, the unmarried mother sometimes kills her 
unwanted child by throwing it in the garbage can. Yet one 
finds cases of unmarried mothers who show a natural sym- 
pathy and affection for their offspring that is reminiscent 
of the isolated communities in the rural South. In this con- 
nection one's attention is called to Dr. Reed's study that 
showed that, whereas only a third of the illegitimate white 
children are taken care of in the home of their mother or a 
relative, three-fourths of the offspring of unmarried Negro 
mothers receive such care. 30 This difference reflects to some 
extent the persistence of the traditional folkways in the ur- 
ban environment. 

Of course, Negro illegitimacy is not merely the persistence 

27 Ibid., pp. 144-45. a8 The Negro Family in Chicago, p. 273. 

" Cf . chap. vi. 

30 The Illegitimate Family in New York City, p. 202. 


of naive peasant folkways in the urban environment. Un- 
doubtedly, much of the illegitimacy issues from social dis- 
organization and results in personal demoralization. Some of 
the unmarried mothers are themselves illegitimate; and it 
appears in some cases, at least, that they have simply imi- 
tated the loose behavior of their mothers. Nor can one over- 
look the fact that a few of the older women who have illegi- 
timate offspring are already married. These women are con- 
scious of having violated the established mores. The same 
may be said of the young girls who attempt in various ways 
to avoid exposure. As a rule, the older women attempt to 
deceive the social agencies by pretending that they are 

It happens occasionally that an unmarried mother has 
lived over a period of years with the father of her illegitimate 
offspring. She may even represent herself to the community 
as well as to her children as a married woman. In such cases 
her efforts to conceal her real relation to the father of her 
children may spring from the desire to protect the status 
of her children in the community. 

As typical of such women, we might cite the case in Wash- 
ington of a forty-four-year-old unmarried mother, without 
any formal education, from a rural community in Mary- 
land. She married when she was thirteen years old, but was 
deserted three years later when her husband went to Florida 
to work. After coming to Washington, she took up with a 
man by whom she had three children. When this man de- 
serted her and married, she began living with another man 
by whom she also had two children. She went by the name 
of the second man and brought up her first set of children 
to believe that their father was dead and the second set that 
she was legally married to their father. When this woman 


had to apply for relief, she reported herself as having been 
married to these men; but, after the social worker found no 
record of her marriages, she explained her attempted de- 
ception in the following letter: 

I want to explain something to you that I didn't tell you this 
morning as the questions were too embarrassing to answer and I 
didn't want my children to know how things were with me as I really 
couldn't help how things were at the time, so now I am telling you the 
truth. I were not married to Johnson or North but having these chil- 
dren couldn't be helped for the sake of my health. Jones was my 
only real husband and that can be found out in X . . . . , Maryland. 
Like many others I didn't realize what a record it would make and 
what all of this would really mean, but as I am not doing any of these 
things now I hope you can straighten this out without any further 
embarrassment, but for the sake of my children and my church please 
let me keep the name NORTH as we were to be married on the 2oth 
of the month when he suddenly died on the i;th of June, 1934. Every 
other thing I have told you was true except that part of things.^ 1 

Although a son and a daughter by the first man are mar- 
ried and are seemingly living conventional lives, the younger 
daughter has unconsciously followed in the footsteps of her 

Our analysis of Negro illegitimacy has revealed that it 
is a problem almost entirely of the naive and ignorant peas- 
ant folk who are newcomers to the city. Occasionally, a 
girl with some education and a good family background will 
be found among the cases in the social agencies. But among 
Negroes, as among whites, when women and girls who have 
the advantage of education and economic security and the 
protection of family become pregnant as a result of extra- 
marital sex relations, they are generally shielded both from 

a 1 Manuscript document. The names in the letter have been changed to 
prevent identification. 


the censure of society and from the scrutiny of social agen- 
cies. It is, of course, different with the great mass of simple 
peasant folk who are without these economic and cultural 
resources. During the course of their migration to the city, 
family ties are broken, and the restraints which once held 
in check immoral sex conduct lose their force. However, in 
some cases where the rural folkways concerning unmarried 
motherhood are in conflict with the legal requirements of 
the city, the persistence of these folkways in the urban en- 
vironment will create social problems. Illegitimacy , like other 
forms of family disorganization, tends to become segregated 
in the poorer sections of the Negro community located in 
the slum areas of our cities. 



The disorganization of Negro family life in the urban en- 
vironment, together with the absence of communal con- 
trols, results in a high delinquency rate among Negro boys 
and girls. However, among Negroes, as among whites, boys 
are much more frequently brought before the courts than 
girls. For example, in 1933 there were 9,864 Negro boys as 
compared with 1,803 Negro girls dealt with in delinquency 
cases disposed of by sixty-seven courts in the United States, 1 
not including the 283 boys and 8 girls whose cases were dis- 
posed of by federal authorities. 2 Since the misconduct of 
Negro girls has been considered to some extent in connec- 
tion with the problem of unmarried motherhood, our atten- 
tion here will be directed mainly to the misconduct of Negro 
boys which may be dealt with under the law. 3 

Negro boys and girls are younger on the whole than the 
white boys and girls handled by the courts. In the sixty- 
seven courts for which we have records in 1933, 87 per cent 
of the Negro boys and 84 per cent of the Negro girls as 
compared with 79 per cent of the white boys and 69 per 

1 U. S. Department of Labor, Juvenile Court Statistics and Federal Juvenile 
Offenders (Children's Bureau Pub. 232 [Washington, 1936]), p. 29. Only 67 
of the 255 courts reporting delinquency furnished information on color. 

a Ibid., p. Si. 

* As defined in the report of the Committee on Socially Handicapped- 
Delinquency, of the White House Conference on Child Health and Protec- 
tion, "delinquency is any such juvenile misconduct as might be dealt with 
under the law" (The Delinquent Child [New York, 1932], p. 23). 



cent of the white girls were under sixteen years of age. 4 
Moreover, available studies indicate that the rates of de- 
linquency for both Negro boys and Negro girls are distinctly 
higher than for white boys and girls. For example, in New 
York City the Negro rate is about three times the white 
rate, while in Baltimore it is more than four times the white 
rate. 5 Then, if we view the situation from the standpoint of 
the Negro alone, we find that in three southern cities 
Richmond, Memphis, and Charleston the proportion of 
Negro cases has been about one and a half times their rela- 
tive numbers in the population of these cities, while in 
Indianapolis, Gary, and Dayton, the proportion has reached 
three or four times their relative numbers. 6 

It is difficult to detect any significant trend in juvenile 
delinquency among Negroes for the country as a whole. 
However, in certain localities one may find fairly definite 
indications that the rates have mounted or declined over a 
period of years. 7 In the District of Columbia the rate has 
declined from 922 per 10,000 boys of juvenile court age in 
1927 to 737 in 1933. During the same period the rate in 
Hudson County, New Jersey, declined from 698 to 263 ; and 
in Fulton County, Georgia, from 644 to 496 for the four 
years 1930-33. On the other hand, in Baltimore from 1930 
to 1933 th e rate rose f rom 672 to 962, and in New York 
City it leaped from 170 in 1927 to 342 in 1928 and remained 
close to the latter rate until 1933. But even the trends ob- 
servable in the various cities throw little or no light on the 

* U.S. Department of Labor, op. eit., p. 29. 

s Ibid., p. 10; see also Sophia M. Robison, Can Delinquency Be Measured? 
(New York, 1936), pp. 62-64. 

6 See T. J. Woofter, Jr., Negro Problems in Cities (New York, 1928), p. 227. 

7 U.S. Department of Labor, op. cit., p. 10. 

3 6 


problem of Negro delinquency. In order to get an under- 
standing of the problem, it is necessary to study the delin- 
quent boy or girl in relation to his or her family and com- 
munity setting. 

The facts brought out in a study of Negro juvenile delin- 
quency in Nashville, Tennessee, during recent years will 
enable us to get some understanding of the social factors 
which are responsible for delinquency in southern cities. 8 








Boys '. 












During the period from 1925 to 1929, the number of Negro 
boys brought into the juvenile court in Nashville fluctuated 
considerably, whereas the number of Negro girls declined 
from 98 to 68 (see Table 18). The number of Negro delin- 
quents brought to court during this period was only slightly 
in excess of their relative numbers in the population of the 
city. 9 In 1929 about 70 per cent of the boys and 63 per cent 
of the girls were from twelve to fifteen years of age. Nearly 
a half of the boys were charged with stealing; whereas the 
majority of the girls were charged with incorrigibility and 

8 The information on Nashville is taken from a Master's thesis written 
under the direction of the author (see Mary LaVerta Huff, "Juvenile Delin- 
quency in Nashville" [Fisk University thesis (Nashville, Tenn., June, 1934)]). 

9 However, in 1932 the number of delinquent boys increased to 324 and 
the number of girls to 83. This increase might have been due to the apprehen- 
sion of more delinquents when the Negro probation force was enlarged. 


disorderly conduct. It should be added that these Negro de- 
linquents were apprehended as ordinary criminals and 
brought to court by the police much more frequently than 
the white delinquents. 

The complaint of a deputy sheriff against a ten-year-old 
offender gives some notion of the demoralization of child- 
hood represented in these delinquency cases : 

This boy was brought in on a state warrant charging tippling and 
the boy admits that he sold a pint of whisky for the people for whom 
he was working, to some man he did not know, for $1.50 and gave 
the money to the people for whom he worked. H. make an investiga- 
tion of the boy's home and found conditions deplorable. The boy's 
mother does not live there but at the place where she works. The boy 
lives with a married sister whose home is filthy and unsanitary and 
an unfit place to live. The boy does not have supervision. He will 
not tell the truth and is badly in need of supervision. 10 

In the charges brought by police officers against a fifteen- 
year-old boy, who was sentenced to the Children's Deten- 
tion Home for a year, one can see to what extent these home- 
less children in the slum areas of southern cities are sub- 
jected to all types of vicious influences: 

The proof is that he, S. P., A. W., and two other men were all in 
one bed together on Sunday morning, March 3, and were engaged in 
lewdness. They admit they were guilty of lewdness. The boy is not 
going to school and has not been at home in weeks. He lives in this 
room where the officer caught all this lewdness at 7 A.M. The boy 
has heretofore been at the C.D.H. for larceny. He is delinquent and 
a truant." 

But more often these boys are picked up for acts of theft 
ranging from petty stealing to burglaries. The record of a 
boy only eleven years of age charged with larceny states: 

10 From court record. " From court record. 


The boy's father came in court and made complaint that the boy 
would not work or go to school but was stealing all around the neigh- 
borhood and was teaching the small boys with whom he associates 
to steal. His mother brought him to court this day and made the 
same complaint and both request that he be committed to the S.T.A. 
From the statements of both parents and after talking to the boy the 
court is satisfied that he is a truant and delinquent and is stealing. 

Often these young lawbreakers are schooled in crime by 
older boys or men or even members of their families. This 
was evident in the case of the eight-year-old-boy charged 
with housebreaking and larceny: 

Policeman B. found a raincoat and two pairs of shoes in the home 
of this boy and arrested him. The boy admits that he and his uncle 
C. B. went to the home of F. about 12 o'clock at night and the uncle 
took a watch and chain and the boy a raincoat and the shoes home 
with him. The boy says that they broke in the house. The boy's 
uncle got away and he does not know where he is. 

Sometimes boys as young as eleven or twelve are appre- 
hended as members of criminal gangs engaging regularly in 
housebreaking and thefts. The extreme youth of the boys 
caught in such delinquencies is indicative of the general 
lack of parental control among some elements of the Negro 
population. In the complaint of the aunt against her way- 
ward twelve-year-old nephew we get a hint of the broken 
homes from which so many of these delinquents come: 

This boy was brought into court by his aunt; she states that the 
boy's mother is dead, that his father does not provide for the boy, 
that she has reared him since he was one year old, that he will not 
work nor go to school and associates with bad company and she can 
no longer control him and wants the court to take the custody of 
him. She promises to clothe him. 

In fact, only 67 of the 176 delinquent Negro boys brought 
into court in 1929 came from families in which both parents 


were living together. In 37 other cases, although both par- 
ents were living, they were separated, chiefly because of the 
desertion of the father. Fifty-nine boys came from homes 
where either the mother or the father was dead; and 13 had 
both parents dead. The home situation was even worse in 
the case of the 68 delinquent girls; only 15 of them came 
from normal families. 

The charge of incorrigibility against 50 of these girls in- 
volved five specific offenses: sex delinquency, truancy, un- 
governability, running away, and continued association with 
vicious companions. 12 In 27 cases there was sex delinquency 
ranging from initial sex experiences to promiscuous relations 
and prostitution. Truancy, which was often associated with 
sex delinquency, was found in 23 cases. Although ungovern- 
ability was found as the sole offense in 7 cases, in 9 other 
cases it was associated with sex delinquency, truancy, and 
running away. Fourteen of the 15 girls who were charged 
with running away were most frequently guilty of sex of- 
fenses, while the 5 girls charged with association with vicious 
companions were generally guilty of the other four of- 
fenses. A view of the type of family background from which 
some of these girls come is given us in the following excerpt 
from the story given by a girl charged with incorrigibility : 

I never want nor expect to return home again, never. I guess I 
haven't a home anyway. I asked my adopted father to never come 
out here to see me. He wouldn't get me any clothes then because I 
said I didn't want to see him. He said if I didn't want to see him I 
sure couldn't have any of his money or anything his money bought. 
When I left home to come here I told that woman he lived with that 
the last thing I intended to do was to poison both of them. I might 
change my mind though. 

My own mother and father are dead. I liked my adopted father 

12 Huff, op. cit., p. 56. 


all right while my adopted mother was living. They were like real 
parents to me. When my adopted mother got sick and stayed for a 
while papa began running around with this woman that he is living 
with. One of my chums put me on to it. This woman lived next door 
to her and she used to see him going there. As soon as mama dies he 
took this woman in. It wasn't more than a week after mama died. 
I told him that he ought to be ashamed, and I said so much to him 
that he slapped me. He never had hit me before, and think, hit me 
about that hoar, I never would eat at the same table with them. After 
she came there to live I would leave for school at 6 o'clock in the 
morning, and I wouldn't come home until late at night. I hated to 
go home. I promised to poison both of them and they believed me. 
They tried to get Miss R. to put me in the C. D. Home a long time be- 
fore she sent me. Miss R. said she didn't blame me for not wanting 
to stay around them. They would throw up to me about my real 
mother, that she had had four children and never been married. I 
never heard anything about this till this woman came. 13 

In some cases the delinquent behavior of these girls has 
not only been taken over from their parents or other adults 
but represents their response to what is held up to them as 
their expected role in life. A woman who called the proba- 
tion officer for aid in managing her thirteen-year-old niece 
described the latter as follows: 

But I know Mary. I ought to when I have had her every since 
she was five months old. I know I understand her. She is exactly 
like her mama. Her mama is my baby sister, but the truth is the truth. 
She had Mary when she was only 15 by an old nigger that didn't have 
a dime to his name. He run off and she never heard of him again after 
he got her in trouble. I kept her in my house until Mary was born, 
and treated her good and helped her with the baby. Then when Mary 
was five months old this gal ups and runs off with another nigger and 
I ain't laid eyes on her from that day to this. Mary has never seen 
her mama to remember. So this gal has just done like her mama. I 
understand alright. 

** Quoted in ibid., p. 61. 


This girl's aunt was reputed to have once been a j.* 
tute and was known to be engaged at the time of the 
plaint in bootlegging. Her neighbors described her as *' 
another who re' ' and claimed that she had forced her m j 
to "hustle" in order to get money for food and clothing. 14 

Occasionally, delinquency on the part of these girls is 
the result of the gradual breaking-down of standards that 
have been built up in the rural environment. This is shown 
in the following document, which was furnished by a seven- 
teen-year-old girl. 15 Moreover, this document is of particu- 
lar interest because it shows that, although the girl's im- 
mediate family was broken by desertion on the part of the 
father, in the rural community the children were integrated 
into the larger family group. However, when the girl came 
to live in the urban environment, the absence of a normal 
family life became the means by which she was led into 
sex delinquency. 

From the time that I can remember anything my mother and we 
children were living with our grandfather who had a farm out at 

Tennessee. I was happy and so were my brothers I remember 

and sisters until grandpa would begin fussing. I remember how he 
used to fuss long before I remember what he would be saying. I would 
know that something made him mad. Soon my mother married again 
to a man who had pretty good money for a country farmer. Then 
mama moved away to a town about seven miles from us. All of us 
cried and begged her to take us but she wouldn't. She said grandpa 
and grandma had helped raise us up to where we was then and that 
we was just the size where we could be of help to them, and said that 
now we could help pay grandma and grandpa for the expenses they 
had been at for us. She said our father had never done anything for 
us. That was the first time I had heard her say anything about our 
father to remember. I guess when grandpa would be fussing he would 
be saying something about him, but I didn't know it. Anyhow I 

Ibid., p. 74. Ibid., pp. 77-79. 


red how he looked and asked grandma about him but she 

In't say much. But before I was much larger I tooked and asked 

ima about him and found out that papa quit my mama about 

months before my youngest brother was born and came here with 

another woman. This woman use to come to the house when mama 

and papa was living together and tried to be so nice to mama. Mama 

really didn't know that papa and this woman was going together. 

Grandma said when one of mama friends told her about it she got 
mad at her. Not long after this papa pretended that his oldest brother 
was at the point of death in the city, and that he had to go at once. 
He didn't come back again until my baby brother had been born and 
was six years old. He didn't know papa and was scared of him like 
he would be of any other strange man. When my baby brother saw 
him he said "Oh there is Jimmy Holloman." He really didn't know 
papa. Then papa got mad about that. That night my brother had 
earache and was crying. Papa got mad about this and said that he 
needed a whipping for keeping up all that racket. Grandpa told him 
if he laid his hand on the child he would kill him dead. Papa left the 
next day and didn't come no more until grandpa had been dead a 
long time. Mama had married and we were all large children. He 
came to visit his sister and brother who lived at home. Folks use to 
say that I looked exactly like his sister, Aunt Molly. But Grandma 
didn't like that because she said that Aunt Molly was nothing but 
a slut. She was married but she had had ten children and wasn't 
but two of them her husband's. The other eight had stray daddies. 
We didn't know how to act toward him and none of us would call 
him papa. We would just begin talking and wouldn't call him any- 
thing. He stayed a month. He swore that he wasn't married but he 
got a lot of letters while he was there. He went to fishing one day and 
me and my sister went into his things and found some things that 
almost made both of us faint. We found first two letters from two 

children of his that he had in a little town not far from here. 

They were thanking him for sending them some stockings and other 
clothes. The oldest one of these children was a boy and we found out 
after we come here that this boy was almost as old as my youngest 
brother. The other was a girl. We couldn't speak for a while after 
we read these letters. There was a letter from their mama too. She 
said in that letter something I will never forget the longest day I 


live about people calling her a fool for still being crazy about him but 
that as long as she was satisfied they could go to hell. My grandma 
and grandpa had said so many times that papa was nothing but a 
nasty, stinking, low down nigger, who was too lazy to work and take 
care of a family. I don't know why we ought to have been surprised 
to find out more of his dirt but we were. I dreaded for him to come 
back from fishing and hoped that he would soon go home. There he 
was sending this woman and those bastards things when he hadn't 
send us hardly $20 worth the whole while that he had been away. 

Later, the girl came to the city to live with her father and 
stepmother. Her story continues: 

I hated so bad to live in the place in which they were living. It 
was an apartment flat with three families living up stairs and three 
downstairs. Brother said that he had heard that not a one of the 
couples was married. He didn't believe that papa was married to this 
woman either. They played cards all day Sunday. This made me sick 
because grandma had never allowed us to go to dances let alone play 
cards. I had to sleep in the same room with papa and his wife. Brother 
slept in a cot in the kitchen. There wasn't but two rooms. Papa and 
this woman would often wake us up in the night doing their business. 
I wouldn't let on that they woke me up. The springs would squeak 
and this woman wouldn't let that noise do but I could hear easy 
enough. This made me sick again I never had heard such at grandma's 
house and I looked down on that kind of stuff. My sister came and 
we just lived through it. Sister and I dreaded for night to come. We 
hated papa more and more. 

The two sisters and their brother continued to go to 
church as they had done in the country. This caused their 
father to ridicule them about their "country" habits. Ten- 
sion between the father and the children continued to be- 
come more acute until finally there was an open break in 
which the children engaged in a fist fight with their father. 
As the result, the girls were put out of the home and re- 
ported to the court as being incorrigible. Instead of sending 
them to the detention home as the father requested, the 


court put them on probation to their brother. When their 
brother married, they were without a home. The girl who 
was charged with sex delinquency because of her conduct 
described below, and sent to the detention home, ends her 
story with the following comment: 

After I had seen so much out of my father, and my brother had 
changed so I just seemed to slip. When I began living on the place 
I would have one day off. I didn't have any place to go. My boy friend 
invited me to spend my off-time over at his place. Everybody sows 
their wild oats at some time or other in their lives. I don't believe 
that I am guilty of any sin because I am going to marry this feller. 

Let us turn our attention from this southern city to New 
York City, where, as we have seen, Negro juvenile delin- 
quency rates suddenly jumped in 1928 to 342 per 10,000 
boys as compared with 170 in 192 7. l6 In 1930 there were for 
all the boroughs 839 Negro children, or 1 1.8 per cent of the 
total of 7,090 children, brought before the Children's Court. 
When delinquents from all agencies were considered, there 
were 1,065 Negro children, or 10.3 per cent of the total of 
10,374 children. However, the proportion of Negro delin- 
quents among the delinquents in both groups varied in the 
different boroughs. The rate was highest in the Manhattan 
borough, where Negro delinquents before the Children's 
Court comprised 26 per cent of the total; whereas, in the 
borough of Brooklyn, Negro cases comprised only 5.4 per 
cent of all the delinquents before the court. 17 

For our purposes here, we shall consider Negro boys and 
girls arrested because of delinquency and neglect in the 
Harlem area during the years I930-34. 18 On the whole, the 

16 See p. 359 above. I7 Robison, op. cit. t p. 61. 

18 This information was collected in 1935 from the records of the police 
precincts while the author was engaged in a study of Harlem for the Mayors 
Commission on Conditions in Harlem (see Map V). 



number of Negro boys and girls arrested for delinquency has 
declined since 1930, although the figures for 1934 indicated 
that the number of delinquents was mounting again. This 
was especially noticeable in the case of the delinquent girls 











Male ... . 


\Under 10 

\Under 10 














\Under 10 

\Under 10 














(see Table 19). The vast majority of the Negro delinquents 
were between ten and sixteen years of age; only about 3 
per cent of the boys, except in 1930, being under ten years 
of age. However, if the children arrested because of neglect 
are considered separately, we find that the vast majority 
were under ten years of age. 

When we analyze the offenses for which these boys and 


girls were arrested, we find that, as in Nashville, the chief 
offense of the boys was larceny and burglary; whereas 50 
per cent of the girls were charged with incorrigibility. Thus, 
in 1934 about 30 per cent of the delinquent boys were 
charged with larceny and 10 per cent with burglary. Among 
the more serious offenses charged against the boys, assaults 
and holdups ranked third and fourth, respectively; whereas 
sex offenses held second place among the girls. Two boys 
were charged with homicide in 1931 and one with the same 
offense in 1932. Although there was no change in the rank 
of these various offenses among either boys or girls during 
the five years, the proportion of boys arrested for larceny 
and burglary increased appreciably, while the proportion 
for assaults and holdups declined slightly. 19 The majority 
of the less serious crimes were indicative of the lack of recrea- 
tional facilities and programs for the children of the Harlem 
community. For example, in 1934 eleven of the boys were 
charged with hitching on trolleys and twenty-seven with 
stealing rides on the subways. On the other hand, the com- 
paratively few boys charged with selling on the streets or 
shining shoes most likely reflected the general poverty of 
the families in the area. 
The relation of juvenile delinquency to the organization 

19 A study of delinquent and neglected Negro children in New York City 
twelve years ago showed a different distribution of offenses for the boys. 
According to that study, the most common charges against Negro boys were 
disorderly conduct and desertion of home; whereas approximately 85 per 
cent of the Negro girls were charged with desertion of home and ungovern- 
able and wayward conduct. The most common charges against the whites 
were stealing and burglary. Thus, our figures indicate that the charges 
against Negro boys are at present similar to those against white boys (see 
Joint Committee on Negro Child Study, A Study of Delinquent and Neglected 
Children before the New York City Children's Court in 1925 [New York, 1927], 
p. 6). 


of the Harlem Negro community is not so apparent as in 
Chicago, where, as we shall see, it is definitely related to the 
economic and cultural organization of the Negro com- 
munity. 20 In Chicago the percentage of Negro delinquent 
cases among the cases brought before the juvenile court has 
steadily increased since 1900. In that year 4.7 per cent of 
all cases of boys before the court were Negro boys. The 
percentage of Negro boys increased for each five-year period 
until it reached 21.7 in i93o. 21 In Table 20 we have the 
number of delinquent and dependent boys and girls brought 
into the juvenile court each year during the decade 1920- 
29. Naturally, these figures do not include all cases of de- 
linquency; in fact, they do not include all the cases of arrests 
for delinquency. For example, in 1927 there were 1,503 boys 
arrested for juvenile delinquency, although only 342 cases 
were taken into the court. 23 

The marked increase in the proportion of Negro cases has 
coincided with the increase in the Negro population during 
and since the war period. However, what is more important 
is that this increase has followed the settlement of the Negro 
migrant in areas characterized by a high delinquency rate. 23 

30 See the author's The Negro Family in Chicago, chap, ix, for a full dis- 
cussion of the relation of delinquency rates to the economic and cultural 
organization of the Negro community. 

31 Ibid., p. 206. During this same period the percentage of Negro girls in 
the total cases increased from n to 20.9. 

"Ibid., p. 205, n. i. 

3 3 Shaw, who has shown in a number of well-known studies the relation 
between delinquency and community disorganization, makes the following 
statement: "It is interesting to note that the main high rate areas of the 
city those near the Loop, around the Stock Yards and the South Chicago 
steel mills have been characterized by high rates over a long period. Our 
data are based on records that go back thirty years, and the early and late 
juvenile court series show conclusively that many of the areas have been 



The Negro, like other groups marked off from the general 
population because of color and low economic and cul- 
tural status, has found a dwelling-place in the deterio- 
rated area just outside the Loop. 24 In the zone nearest the 
center of the city, the juvenile delinquency rate, based upon 
arrests, was over 40 per cent. 25 From a physical standpoint 

TABLE 20* 



DECEMBER i, 1919 NOVEMBER 30, 1929 













Boys ... . 











Girls... . 












Boys. . . . 











Girls... . 











* Taken from the records of the Institute for Juvenile Research. 

this area showed extreme deterioration and gave evidence 
of the expansion of the central business district. On the one 
hand, there were dilapidated houses carrying signs of rooms 
for rent at fifteen and twenty cents a bed, junk shops, 
markets with stale meat, and crowded Negro quarters with 
filthy bedding half- visible through sooty and broken window 

characterized by high rates throughout the entire period. It should be re- 
membered that relatively high rates have persisted in certain areas notwith- 
standing the fact that the composition (racial) of population has changed 
markedly* ' (Clifford Shaw et. al., Delinquency Areas [Chicago, 1929], p. 203). 

a *Cf. Sophonisba P. Breckinridge and Edith Abbott, The Delinquent 
Child and the Home (New York, 1912), p. 153. 

25 See Map IV, p. 303. 



panes. On the other hand, new motorcar salesrooms fur- 
nished signs of the future role which the regenerated area 
would play in the organization of the city. In keeping with 
the general character of the area, all organized community 
life had disappeared, and the inhabitants were, on the whole, 
remnants of broken families and foot-loose men and women. 
In 1921 the men in the county jail who claimed residence in 
this area comprised over 9 per cent of the adult males living 
in the area. 













Boys arrested . . 









4.2 8 

^I 4. 

2Q O 

28 8 

I C 7 


i 4 

Although the delinquency rates in the next three zones 
were lower than in the first zone, they were still compara- 
tively high. About three out of ten boys from ten to seven- 
teen years of age were arrested for juvenile delinquency in 
these zones. The significant drop in the delinquency rate 
appeared in the fifth zone, where only 15 per cent of the 
boys of juvenile-court age were arrested for delinquency. In 
the sixth zone the delinquency rate continued to decline 
sharply, and in the seventh zone only 1.4 per cent of the 
boys were charged with delinquent behavior (see Table 21). 

The decline in delinquency coincided with the decline in 
dependency, family desertion, and illegitimacy in the seven 
zones indicating the expansion of the Negro population. The 


rates were high in those areas that were characterized by 
physical decay and the lack of organized community life. 
In these areas the customary forms of social control, as 
represented by the family and the simple folk culture of 
the migrants from southern communities, tended to break 
down or to disappear altogether. Consequently, some of the 
fairly well-organized families lost control of their children 
who took over from boys or gangs patterns of delinquent be- 
havior which were characteristic of these areas. The chil- 
dren from the numerous broken families, and whose mothers 
had to carry the entire burden of supporting their families, 
easily drifted into delinquency. 26 In the third zone, where 
prostitution and other types of criminal behavior flourished, 
not only were the children subjected to the criminal influ- 
ences in the neighborhood, but they were also influenced by 
the criminal behavior of their parents. The decline in the 
delinquency rate in the areas toward the periphery of the 
community coincided with the increasing stabilization of 
family life and the disappearance of various forms of social 

What we have observed in regard to juvenile delinquency 
in the Negro community in Chicago is characteristic of other 
cities, in the South as well as the North. Though the process 
of selection which is apparent in the economic and cultural 
organization of Negro communities is less pronounced and 
not so well defined in some cities, the incidence of juvenile 
delinquency is closely tied up with the organization of the 
community. Juvenile delinquency flourishes in those areas 
where the Negro, because of his poverty and cultural back- 
wardness, is forced to find a dwelling-place. In the slum 
areas of Negro communities, because of the numerous 

96 See Table 6, p. 307, above. 


broken homes and the employment of the mother, the chil- 
dren lack parental control which is sometimes able to offset 
the influence of the vicious environment. Negro families 
with higher aspirations who are able to achieve some eco- 
nomic security are constantly escaping from the deterio- 
rated slum areas. They move as far as they are able into 
the areas where the more stable families and substantial 
elements in the Negro population live and maintain orderly 
community life. This selective process is the outcome of the 
rigorous competition which Negro families must face in the 
modern urban environment, and their success or failure de- 
pends largely upon their cultural as well as economic re- 


For a long time there has been a great divergence of opin- 
ion concerning the frequency of divorce among Negroes. 1 
Over half a century ago Commissioner of Labor Wright 
in his report on marriage and divorce stated, on the basis 
of the opinions of "clerks of courts and others in a position 
to judge with fair accuracy," that "it is probably true that 
in nearly all of the states .... where the colored population 
is very dense, nearly if not quite three-fourths of the di- 
vorces granted were to colored people. " 2 Likewise, the cen- 
sus report twenty years later stated that "statements of 
court officials and of divorce lawyers in those sections of the 
South where the negro constitutes a considerable element of 
the population tend to show that the divorces granted to 
colored persons form from 50 to as high as 90 per cent of all 
divorces. " 3 These opinions were apparently confirmed by 
the 1900 census data on the marital conditions of whites 
and Negroes in the southern states. "These figures/' as 

1 The annual reports by the United States Bureau of the Census do not 
separate the divorce statistics for the Negroes. Although instructions were 
given originally to secure the color of the litigants, this information was so 
scanty that it made separate statistics for the Negroes impossible (Marriage 
and Divorce, 1867-1906 [Washington, 1909], Part I, p. 20). 

a Marriage and Divorce in the United States, 1867-1886 (Washington, 
1897), p. 132. Cf. J. P. Lichtenberger, Divorce: A Social Interpretation (New 
York, 1931), p. 123. In this study Dr. Lichtenberger has traced the develop- 
ment of opinions relative to the frequency of divorce among Negroes. Our 
discussion follows practically the same line as that given in this study. See 
also the author's The Negro Family in Chicago (Chicago, 1932), pp. 57-59. 

3 Marriage and Divorce, i86?-ipo6, Part I, p. 20. 



Lichtenberger points out, "show that while the ratio of mar- 
riages to population was greater among white people in both 
divisions and in all but three States South Carolina, Mis- 
sissippi, and Louisiana the States having the highest per- 
centages of Negro population, in both divisions, and in all 
the States without exception, the ratio of divorces to popu- 
lation was greater, and in several instances much greater, 
for the colored than for the white." 4 However, the Bureau 
of the Census did not accept these facts as final proof of the 
current opinions. They called attention, first, to the fact 
that "the number of divorced persons as returned at the 
census of 1900 was probably grossly deficient, because many 
divorced persons, sensitive in regard to their marital condi- 
tion, reported themselves as single or widowed." Therefore, 
they concluded, since this tendency was possibly "greater 
among the whites than among the colored, .... the figures 
for the two races would not be exactly comparable." 5 

Some years previously, Professor Willcox in his study of 
divorce had questioned the accuracy of Commissioner 
Wright's statement. He pointed out, first, that "an a priori 
argument against the opinion quoted may be derived from 
what is known of divorce in other parts of the world. It is 
not the poorest and most ignorant classes that frequent the 
divorce courts: their poverty and ignorance prevent." 6 
Then, he proposed, first, that a comparison be made be- 
tween the percentage of Negroes in the total population of 
the various southern states and the number of divorces 
granted in these states. This comparison failed to show any 

*0p. cit., pp. 124-25. 

s Marriage and Divorce, 1867-1906, Part I, p. 20. 

6 Walter F. Willcox, The Divorce Problem: A Study in Statistics ("Studies 
in History, Economics and Public Law," Vol. I [New York, 1897]), p. 30. 


relation between these two phenomena. Actually, the four 
states with the lowest percentages of Negroes West Vir- 
ginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Texas had the highest 
divorce rates. 7 Professor Willcox went farther and made a 
study of counties in the seven states with the highest per- 
centages of Negro population and found that "in all of the 
states but Arkansas the divorce rate was less in the black 
counties than in the white/' 8 Even this could not be re- 
garded as decisive proof, inasmuch as it was possible that 
in the counties predominantly white, where there was a 
strict enforcement of laws regarding marital relations, the 
divorce-rate might have been swelled by the black litigants. 
Professor Willcox's carefully worded conclusion that, "on 
the whole, it seems probable that the average Negro divorce 
rate is rather below that of the southern whites, but is in- 
creasing much more rapidly, and in a few localities or states 
may have already reached or passed it," was probably 
true. 9 

However, Professor Willcox was describing the situation 
in the South where the Negro population was predominantly 
rural. Even present-day statistics on the situation in Mis- 
sissippi, where almost seven-eighths of the Negroes live in 
rural communities, indicate that the divorce-rate is lower 
among Negroes than among whites. For the period 1928- 
34 the ratio of divorces to marriages among Negroes was 
not only lower than the ratio for whites but declined while 
the white rate remained practically stationary. For the 
years 1928-30 there were 8.4 divorces per 100 marriages 
among Negroes, whereas during this same period the rate 
for whites increased from 12.3 to 13.7. During the next four 

7 Lichtenberger, op. cit., p. 123. 8 Op. cit. y p. 32. 9 Ibid. 



years the rate for Negroes declined from 6.0 to 4.4 while 
the white rate remained unchanged (Table 22). 

It is not unlikely that in rural communities, such as those 
inhabited by the Negroes in Mississippi, the divorce-rates 
among Negroes are lower than among whites. As we have 
seen, in the rural community the Negro's social relations 
are based upon sympathy and sentiment and are regulated 

TABLE 22* 



























IQ3I . . 

IQ72 . . 



* Based upon Twenty-ninth Biennial Report of the State Board of Health. 

by custom and folk beliefs. When it comes to severing his 
marital ties, he has only vague or erroneous ideas concerning 
the meaning of divorce. It is regarded not as an institutional 
affair but as a personal matter in which one or the other 
partner in the marriage relationship may give the other a 
"divorce" or a "scrip" and thereby free themselves from 
their marital obligations. Unlike divorce, marriage in even 
the most primitive rural community is supported by the 
mores or is regarded at least as a relationship which must be 
initiated by a minister who represents the authority of the 
church, if not the vaguer authority of the law. 


But, when the Negro migrates to the city, he learns that 
the stern impersonal authority of the law demands that he 
go through some legal procedure if he is married and desires 
to enter a new marriage relation. His nai've reaction to the 
rational and impersonal organization of the urban environ- 
ment with its written records and legal formalities is often 
the same as that voiced by the unmarried mother, whose 
letter was quoted in a previous chapter. 10 When the social 
worker confronted her with the fact that she had had chil- 
dren without being married, she wrote a letter stating that 
she did not realize that her immoral conduct would be 
recorded against her. The Negro migrant's uncertainty and 
lack of appreciation of the legal status of divorce is typified 
by a deserted woman in Nashville who had remarried. In 
explaining why she got a divorce, she said, "I got a divorce 
and married again. Some of the people [in her neighbor- 
hood] said that I didn't have to get a divorce, but I didn't 
want to have no trouble, so I got one before I married." 
The same attitude was expressed by a young woman who 
came to Chicago from Mississippi following the World War. 
She married a young man whom she had known for two 
months at the night school which they attended. After many 
conflicts arising out of jealousies and disagreements over 
whether she should work and whether he should have a 
hand in the cooking, they separated within six months. In 
speaking of her plans to remarry, she said, "Some day, I am 
planning to marry somebody. They [her neighbors and ac- 
quaintances] told me that after you are separated three 
years, you didn't have to get a divorce, you could go on and 
marry." However, she wanted to be certain in order not to 
run the risk of violating the law. 

The unstable family and marital relations of the Negro in 

10 See p. 356, above. 


the city, together with his fear of punishment in case of 
forming bigamous relations, provide a partial explanation 
of the discovery by Professor Ogburn that Negroes, on the 
basis of an analysis of the 1920 census for five states, sought 
divorces more frequently than whites." The 1910 census in- 
dicated that, in a third to two-fifths of the Negro families 
in some southern cities, the husband or wife or both had 
been married more than once. 12 Although statistics are not 
available for recent years, it seems reasonable to assume 
that there is still considerable remarriage. Consequently, 
the Negro in the city probably resorts to the divorce court 
frequently in order to avoid being punished. The statistics 
on the percentage of divorced persons in the Negro popula- 
tion indicates that he is resorting to court more frequently 
than in the past. Between 1920 and 1930, in practically 
every city with 10,000 or more Negroes, there was an in- 
crease in the percentage of divorced persons in the Negro 
population. 13 A study of divorce in the county in which one 
of these cities Omaha, Nebraska is located, revealed that 
89, or 8 per cent, of the 922 cases of divorce were colored, 
although Negroes comprised only 5.3 per cent of the popula- 
tion. 14 

An analysis of the reports from the Bureau of Vital Sta- 

" Ernest R. Groves and William F. Ogburn, American Marriage and Fam- 
ily Relations (New York, 1928), p. 372. Dr. Ogburn got a measure of the 
tendency in the racial populations to seek divorce by getting the ratio of 
divorced persons to persons twenty-five years of age and over, single and 
widowed, for Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Maryland, and Texas. The ratio for 
the Negroes was 7.02, or 1.57 as large as that for the native whites of native 
parents, which was the second highest group. 

" See Table 29, Appen. B. 

'3 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United States, 1920-1932, 
p. 183. 

*< T. Earl Sullenger, A Study of Divorce and Its Causation in Douglas 



tistics of the state of Virginia will enable us to compare 
whites and Negroes in the cities of that state in regard to 
divorce rates for the nine-year period 1923-31 (Table 23) . IS 
First, it appears that the relative frequency of divorces 




CITIES, 1923-31 













Danville. . 


2. I 

i. 5 


























22 .1 











News. . 














among Negroes in the various cities coincides with the fre- 
quency among whites. For example, in Danville, where both 
the white and the Negro rates have been extremely low, 
the Negro rate has declined on the whole as the white rate 

** Prior to 1923 the color of the litigants was omitted in too many cases 
for a comparison of the races. There were also omissions during the years 
1923-31, especially for the city of Richmond. For each of the nine years 
beginning in 1923 the number of cases with color omitted in Richmond was 
as follows: 33, 84, 52, 36, 67, 35, 37, 66, and 67. However, if we had as- 
sumed although the assumption was entirely unwarranted that all liti- 
gants for whom no color was given were Negroes, the Negro rate except for 
two years would still have been lower or about the same as the white rate. 
There were relatively few cases with the color omitted in the other cities 
(see Table 51, Appen. B). 


has declined. On the other hand, in Norfolk and Newport 
News, with their highly mobile population, both the Negro 
and the white rates have been higher than in Richmond, 
where the white and Negro population are more stable. 
However, in all four cities during the nine years the Negro 
rate has been significantly lower than the white rate. Natu- 
rally, one cannot draw any conclusions from these figures 
for Virginia cities concerning divorces in other cities, es- 
pecially in the North. 

Nevertheless, the causes for which divorces were granted 
to Negroes seem to throw some light on the family situation 
responsible for divorces among a large class of Negroes in 
the urban environment. The outstanding cause of divorce 
among Negroes in all these cities was desertion. 16 Whereas 
among the whites adultery was given as the cause in about 
a fourth to a half as many cases as desertion, among the 
Negroes adultery figured as the cause in only from a twelfth 
to a tenth as many cases as desertion. For example, in New- 
port News in 1930 there were twenty-nine divorces granted 
to Negroes. Of this number, twenty-four were granted for 
desertion eleven to men and thirteen to women. It is also 
significant that divorces for desertion are granted to Negro 
men in almost the same proportion of cases as to Negro 

Although desertion here refers to the legal cause and not 
the real cause of divorce, from what we know of Negro 
family life in the urban environment, it probably describes 
fairly accurately the real nature of the break in conjugal 

16 In Mississippi in 1933 and 1934 desertions constituted the chief cause 
for divorce among Negroes; whereas cruel and inhuman treatment was the 
chief cause for whites (see Twenty-ninth Biennial Report of the State Board 
of Healthy p. 30). 


relations that leads to divorce. As we have seen, many of the 
Negro migrants secure divorces in order "to have no 
trouble." In such cases they are simply endeavoring to 
avoid the penalty that is administered by an authority that 
finds no support in their own attitudes and sentiments. 
Since they generally live in a world of mobility and more or 
less anonymity and have no roots in a community life, di- 
vorce has no significance so far as their status and social 
relationships are concerned. Consequently, divorce is not a 
means of severing an institutional or legal relationship but 
signifies a legalized form of desertion. When the Negro 
woman gives desertion as the cause, she is probably describ- 
ing the real situation in a large majority of cases. But the 
Negro man, who has often deserted his wife, will give deser- 
tion as the cause because it is accepted as a legal cause, and 
his wife may have no knowledge of what is occurring. In 
some cases the man, who is generally more sophisticated in 
the ways of the city than the woman, may get a divorce 
without his wife understanding what is happening. This was 
the case with a young woman from New Orleans who ap- 
peared before the Court of Domestic Relations in Chicago 
in order to find out if she had been legally married and, if 
so, whether her husband could divorce her without her con- 
sent. Her suspicions had been aroused by her neighbors 
whom she had informed that she had received a summons 
concerning a divorce which her husband had torn up with 
the remark that there was "nothing to it." As it turned 
out, the woman had been legally married, and her husband, 
taking advantage of her ignorance, was getting a divorce in 
order to marry another woman. 

Here, of course, we are discussing the unstable and dis- 
organized elements in the Negro population. Among this 


group, the same factors which are responsible for desertions 
give rise to divorce. The simple family organization which 
was based upon habit and sympathy and supported by the 
customs of the rural community goes to pieces in the urban 
environment. In some cases where a man is a drunkard and 
abuses his wife or fails to support his family, the woman 
who has to support the family may get a divorce in order 
to free herself and children from his interference in the 
family. This was the case with a thirty-nine-year-old mother 
in Nashville who, with the aid of the small earnings of her 
eighteen-year-old son, was struggling to support herself and 
a daughter of fourteen. Concerning the reason she divorced 
her husband, she stated simply: "He was too darn mean 
to me. He was just a drunkard. When he had money he 
wouldn't help the children. It was up to me to care for them. 
I got tired of that foolishness, so we got a divorce. After the 
divorce, I just stayed here and worked for my children." 
In other cases, the man or woman may attempt to solve 
his or her marital difficulties by leaving the home and taking 
up his or her abode with another man or woman without 
marrying. This is easy in the Negro slum areas where there 
is no community opinion to oppose such conduct. Often, 
when the man or woman is discovered living in such rela- 
tionships, violent quarrels result. Then the man or woman 
who has deserted may realize that the only way to win in 
the tug of war is by getting a divorce. A woman in Chicago 
remarked that she finally surrendered and gave her husband 
a divorce after he had deserted her four times and had taken 
up his abode with another woman. From what one may 
learn of the married life of many such persons who apply for 
a divorce, a period of violent conflicts, chiefly over "outside" 
men and women, usually precedes the application for divorce. 


On the other hand, the increase in the percentage of di- 
vorced persons in the Negro population of the various cities 
may indicate a growing recognition of the institutional or 
legal character of marriage. This is probably true of the 
growing numbers of laborers, semiskilled, skilled, and domes- 
tic workers who have acquired some stability in the urban 
environment. They have not only acquired some sophistica- 
tion in the ways of the city but have also become accustomed 
to regulating their lives according to its laws. Of even great- 
er importance is the fact that they have become incorpo- 
rated into the institutional life of the Negro community, 
especially the churches and the lodges and have contacts 
with schools through their children. Since this class often 
takes considerable pride in being law-abiding citizens, when 
it becomes necessary to break their marital ties, they seek 
legal means. In fact, to some of the people in this group, 
to marry without a divorce would constitute not only a 
violation of the law but a sin. Consequently, divorce, be- 
cause of its effect upon the status of the individual in the 
organization of the community and the relations of the 
family, acquires a new meaning. 

It appears, however, that divorces occur frequently 
among the more intelligent and ambitious members of this 
group who, because of educational advantages, are con- 
stantly drawn into the growing new middle class in the 
Negro community. This produces considerable social mo- 
bility in the Negro population and consequently affects 
marital relations. Marriage unions among this group are 
usually formed on the basis of romantic attraction and are 
rooted neither in the traditions of the Negro nor in estab- 
lished class traditions. The permanence of such unions de- 
pends mainly upon the development of a community of 


interests between the husband and wife. But it often hap- 
pens that, after the glamour of romance has faded, the 
partners to these unions are drawn apart by diverse inter- 
ests. The diversity of interests may result from the attrac- 
tion of other men and women, or from different modes of 
living, or separation because of occupational advantages. 
When the couple has married young, the man especially 
may acquire new interests and a different outlook on life 
from that of his wife. Or in other cases, the wife may seize 
an opportunity to enter upon a career of her own and thus 
destroy the pattern of family life which the man has been 
accustomed to. One cannot say whether divorces occur 
more frequently among this class than among the less 
sophisticated and semiliterate Negro in the lower occupa- 
tional classes. At any rate, divorces among this group gen- 
erally have a different sociological significance. They are 
more or less a part of the process by which the Negro who 
has risen from the masses in the urban environment achieves 
increasing self-consciousness and attempts to make rational 
adjustments to a changing world. 

Since the World War Negro newspapers have featured, in 
the style of sensational journalism, the divorces of the more 
prominent members of the new Negro middle class. Despite 
the multiplicity of causes which are given for the divorces 
among this class, they reflect on the whole the absence of 
established class traditions in regard to family life and give 
evidence of conflicting patterns of life on the part of the 
parties to the divorces. It appears that divorces occur more 
frequently among those members of the middle class who 
have risen from the lower strata in Negro life than among 
representatives of the older families. The representatives of 
the older families generally exhibit the traditional attitude 


against divorce and prefer to suffer conjugal infelicity rather 
than to air their disagreements in the divorce courts or 
acknowledge their marital failures before the Negro world. 
A document furnished by a young schoolteacher whose 
parents were divorced will give us some idea not only of 
the nature of the family difficulties that lead to divorce 
among this class but also of the attitude of the family 
toward divorce and the effects of divorce upon the family. 
Our informant's family had lived very happily in a small 
town where her father was a successful physician. In order 
to afford their daughter better educational opportunities, 
the family moved to a large city where Negro business was 
undergoing considerable growth. There her father found 
that he could supplement his income from his practice by 
joining the staff of a Negro insurance company. As his in- 
come increased, he provided his family with a comparatively 
luxurious home and afforded them the usual advantages of 
successful middle-class families. However, his business con- 
nections required him to spend much time away from home. 
Because of the change in their mode of living, his wife be- 
gan to chafe and constantly demanded clothes and various 
forms of entertainment. The former harmony and under- 
standing between the parents were undermined, and the 
mother began to nag her husband. This only made matters 
worse, and according to our informant: 

Soon gossip came to my mother 's ears of another woman. My 
father would come in late and I could hear them fuss far into the night. 
My mother told me nothing of all this. What I knew I found out by 
"listening in" on these arguments at night and on long conversations 
between my mother and my cousin. 

Then her father went on a trip and took her and his 
secretary along. Although his daughter saw nothing to 


arouse her suspicions, when her mother became furious she 
says that it was then that she "found out who the other 
woman was." Relations between her father and mother be- 
came more strained, and after a year of bickerings her father 
moved from the home, and her mother applied for a divorce. 
Although a temporary divorce for six months was granted, 
there was no healing of the breach. Finally, because of the 
censorious attitude of the community, her father went back 
to the small town to practice medicine; and her mother who 
refused alimony maintained a smaller home for herself and 
her daughter. Her daughter describes her reaction to the 
divorce as follows: 

Up to that time I thought that love between man and woman was 
very sacred and that the few fusses Mother and Dad had around home 
were just thrown in with the pleasant things to keep marriage from 
growing monotonous. I thought that if two people ever loved each 
other my mother and father did. The last year they were together 
made me realize it was not "all roses"; but the final divorce thoroughly 
disillusioned me. I knew that the only thing my mother did was to 
quarrel with Dad; but my father had been untrue to mother. Natu- 
rally I sympathized with Mother more than with Dad. I began to be- 
lieve all men were the same way. I felt that if after all the years my 
mother and father had been living together, he could do as he had 
done, no man would ever mean anything to me. Our friends say that 
the affair has made me sensitive. That is true. 

As indicated in the foregoing case, divorces on this social 
and economic level in the Negro population are similar to 
divorces among the white middle class. They involve none 
of the lack of sophistication which one finds among the 
poorer Negro migrants. Moreover, divorces among this class 
affect the status of the family in the community. In fact, it 
appears that, as the Negro rises in the scale of civilization 
and the Negro population becomes more differentiated, di- 


vorces may even increase. In the absence of established tra- 
ditions along occupational lines, many mismatings will in- 
evitably occur. For example, some of the divorces among 
prominent members of the new Negro middle class have re- 
sulted from the fact that the husband's pattern of life as a 
teacher or scholar has conflicted with his wife's ideas of con- 
sumption and social ambitions. 

Divorce, unlike desertion and other forms of family dis- 
organization, is not simply the result of the impact of urban 
life upon the simple family organization of the Negro which 
was molded in the rural folk community. Although among 
the less stable elements in the Negro community divorce be- 
comes in many cases merely a legalized form of desertion, 
among other elements it is indicative of a growing recogni- 
tion of the institutional and legal character of marriage and 
divorce. But, in addition, many divorces show the influ- 
ence of the increasing social mobility which has resulted 
from the occupational differentiation of the Negro popula- 
tion. While these new classes are in the process of forma- 
tion, fixed patterns of behavior and traditional control of 
conduct will be lacking. Consequently, divorces among ur- 
ban Negroes not only reflect the influence of the traditional 
folk culture of the Negro but also show the effects of the 
new class formations. 



When, during a discussion of changes in Chicago, a mem- 
ber of one old family remarked to a member of another that 
"the old families are never in the newspapers" and received 
the sympathetic rejoinder that "these people are struggling 
to get where we were born," they were expressing their 
partly genuine and partly affected contempt for the new 
classes that were coming into prominence in the large Negro 
community. Although these old families had shown a simi- 
lar contempt for the migrants who came during earlier pe- 
riods, they had never felt their position menaced as they 
did when the masses of ignorant, uncouth, and impoverished 
migrants flooded the city during the World War and changed 
the whole structure of the Negro community. The earlier 
migrations had caused little change in the status of the 
Negro in the city; but, when the Negro community was 
overwhelmed by the black hordes from the southern planta- 
tions, new barriers were raised against the Negro. 1 The 
older residents, especially those who had prided themselves 
upon their achievements and their culture, literally fled be- 
fore the onrush of the migrants. Some of the mulatto families 
moved into white neighborhoods. But, as we have seen, the 

1 The percentage of mulattoes in the Negro population in Chicago de- 
clined from 41.6 in 1910 to 27.4 in 1920. A similar change could be noted in 
other cities to which the Negroes migrated in large numbers. In New York 
City the percentage of mulattoes decreased during this period from 24.9 
to 14.1, and in St. Louis, from 34.0 to 14.5. 



vast majority of the older residents who formed the upper 
class moved to the periphery of the Negro community. 2 

Within the Negro community itself changes were rapidly 
taking place which affected, even more fundamentally, the 
status of these older families. In the past the more ambi- 
tious and intelligent among the migrants had become in- 
corporated into the small group of upper-class families, and 
the simple class division had remained largely as it was. 
But, with the sudden growth of the community during the 
war, the older class division was being blotted out by the 
differentiation of the community along occupational lines. 
Negro workers became a significant factor in the basic in- 
dustries. Many of the leaders of the migrants had followed 
the migrating masses, and still other leaders in new occupa- 
tions were coming to the fore to serve the needs of an 
awakened people. The emergence of occupational classes 
gave birth to new distinctions, while within these classes 
new ideals and patterns of family life were created. What 
was taking place in Chicago was an intensification on a 
large scale of a process that was going on in the urbanized 
Negro population all over the country. 

Before the rapid urbanization of the Negro population, 
during and after the World War, Negro communities were 
divided on the whole into two main classes. The upper class 
was made up of a small group of families who, because of 
their higher standards of morality and superior culture, were 
differentiated from the great mass of the population. 3 The 
existing occupational differentiation of the population had 
not become the basis of social distinctions and standards of 
living. The small group of upper-class families represented 

a See pp. 306-7, above. 3 Cf . chap. xii. 


the whole range of occupational classes. 4 The Negro profes- 
sional man had not long since made his appearance in Negro 
communities. "When I was, perhaps, ten years old/' writes 
James Weldon Johnson concerning Jacksonville in the 
eighties, "a strange being came to Jacksonville, the first 
colored doctor." 5 As a rule the upper class evolved out of 
the few better-situated families with similar standards and 
congenial ways of life. Johnson's reminiscences concerning 
his boyhood playmates show a stage in this evolution which 
was typical of the process in Negro communities: 

In the house on the lot adjoining us on the north lived the two 
little Ross girls, who looked white but were not. They went by the 
lovely pet names of "Sing" and "Babe." Sometimes my brother and 
I went over to their yard to play and sometimes they came over to 
ours. But the playmates that had our mother's unqualified approval 
lived at a considerable distance. We used to go across town to play 
with Alvin and Mamie Gibbs, whose father was steward on one of the 
steamboats that then plied the St. Johns River; with Sam and Charlie 
Grant, sons of the pastor of Ebenezer Church; and with Carrie, Fred, 
and "Trixie" (a boy) Onley, whose father was a contractor and 
builder. The houses of these playmates were very much like our own; 
that of the Onleys was, perhaps, a bit more pretentious. 6 

When he returned to Jacksonville in the nineties, he found 
that this group had developed into an exclusive social class. 
His description of this class continues : 

* For example, in Athens, Georgia, at the close of the past century the 
upper class included five teachers, two physicians, three in United States 
mail service, three barbers, two tailors, one bookkeeper, two carpenters, two 
shoemakers, two waiters, one editor, one real estate agent, two ministers, 
three blacksmiths, one cook, one restaurant-keeper, one farmer, and one 
plumber (W, E. B. Du Bois, The Negro in the Black Belt: Some Social Sketches 
["Bulletin of the Department of Labor," No. 22 (Washington, 1902)]). 

5 Along This Way (New York, 1934), p. 41. 6 0p. cii., p. 33. 


Now, I found that there was a social life which had a degree of 
exclusiveness. There were many more homes that were comfortable 
and commodious; and entertainment among those who went in for 
society had become largely a private matter. The women who were 
leaders in affairs social were sharply divided into two groups: a 
Chautauqua group that took up culture and serious thinking, and 
gave mild entertainments; and a group which put more stress on the 
mere frivolities, gave whist parties and house dances, and served a 
punch of more than one-half of one per cent strength. Certainly, in 
my boyhood the well-to-do colored people gave entertainments of one 
sort or another in their homes, to which they invited those with whom 
they associated, but I don't think there was such a thing as "society/' 
"Society" was one of the new things I found. I also found that the 
men had gone in for it. There had been organized a social club called 

The Oceolasy which gave two or three dances each winter In the 

Oceola Club a man's occupation had little or nothing to do with his 
eligibility. Among the members were lawyers, doctors, teachers, brick- 
layers, carpenters, barbers, waiters, Pullman porters. This democracy, 
however, was not exactly laxness; I knew of one or two cases in which, 
for one reason or another, the possession of money failed to force 
entrance. On one point, this black "society" was precisely like South- 
ern white "society" anyone belonging to an "old family," regardless 
of his pecuniary condition or, in fact, his reputation, was eligible. ? 

In previous chapters we have already learned something 
of the background of the old families referred to in the fore- 
going quotation. 8 Here we want to consider the general 
culture, ideals, and outlook on life of these old families who 
constituted the Negro upper class and to study the effects 
of the effacement of this class by the new occupational 
classes which have emerged since the opening of the present 

These families, as we have noted, were more or less iso- 
lated from the great mass of the Negro population. As far 
as possible they sought residence in neighborhoods outside 

7 Ibid., pp. 133-34. 8 See chaps, x, xi, and xii above. 


the Negro areas. In both northern and southern cities we 
find them living close to or within the white neighborhoods. 
Sometimes a single block of a street normally occupied by 
whites would be occupied by a small group of these families. 
For example, in Baltimore during the first years of the pres- 
ent century in one of these blocks there were three families 
of caterers, a physician's family, a schoolteacher's family, 
the family of a successful grocer, and several families that, 
though not belonging to this class, were struggling to main- 
tain high standards of family life. These last three families 
were struggling to give their children an education that 
would make them eligible for admittance into the upper 
class. Although cordial relations existed between the fami- 
lies that had "arrived" and the families that were "rising," 
there was consciousness on both sides of the differences in 
social status. Between the old families and the families on 
a smaller side street and in a near-by alley, there was no 
intercourse whatever. However, between the families that 
were rising and one or two families in the alley and on the 
side street that were also struggling to improve themselves, 
there were sympathetic relations in spite of a certain social 
distance that was generally maintained between them. 9 

9 The process of differentiation has, of course, been going on since emanci- 
pation. In 1877 a colored citizen of Washington wrote a satire entitled 
"Washington's Colored Society" in which he described the three classes 
which had appeared as follows: "The first class consisted as it does now of 
Negroes, who were slaves in the District of Columbia befo' de wah and who 
obtained their liberty by paying the master class more than they were really 
worth. The second or middle class consisted as it does now to a large extent 
of Negroes, who took advantage of the emancipation proclamation of a 
gentleman named Abraham Lincoln, sometime President of the United 
States. The third or poor class consisted of all Negroes as it does now, who 
never had any master but who were only nominally free at best, and were in 
an immeasurably worse condition than either of the former when they were 


In this community, as in Negro communities in other 
cities, the old established families were of mulatto origin 

in bondage The upper class (i.e.) all Negroes who bought their free- 
dom or were set free before the war of rebellion undertook at an early day in 
the history of the Negroes of the District of Columbia to mark out the 
boundary and the habitation not only of the 'Free niggers' but also of those 
who but for the kindness of Mr. Lincoln might possibly have been grovelling 
in darkness and superstition to a greater extent than they are today. The 
objection raised against this last named class seemed to have arisen from the 
fact that the prolific and inventive genius of the immortal Ben Butler had 
transformed them into 'Contraband of war* a technicality which shows not 
only wisdom and humanity but marvellous sagacity and hind sight. A Negro 
therefore who worked and bought himself from those whose only right to his 
carcass was the thief and robbers right considered himself more valuable 
intrinsically, than the Negro whose liberty was given him at the demands 

of justice The contrabands (i.e.) those Negroes who were set free by 

virtue of the Emancipation proclamation were as I have said in the pre- 
ceding chapter an industrious hard working and to a large extent frugal and 
economical people. They were however not unlike other Negroes, they were 
by no means immaculate, were given to bad habits just as other Negroes 
were and occasionally one could be found with two wives on his hands and 
several sets of children. Considering the infamous system pursued by their 
Christian owners in the matter of increasing the earth's population, they 
could not be expected to possess the highest moral character any more than 
their late owners. Aside from the very few imperfections in the physical and 
spiritual anatomy of the contraband, he was a model working man, a faithful 
and good citizen, a devoted husband and father and the owner of right 
smart horse sense. He did not care much for 'highfalutin' things which meant 
nothing, but was constantly and eagerly in search of the realities that make 
life possible and enjoyable. He took no pleasure in attending card recep- 
tions simply because the white folks had them nor in substituting French 
for English in saying good-bye to a friend, because he couldn't. The poor 
class or the free 'nigger' as they were called drew the line on all newcomers, 
giving as their reason for so doing that they were old citizens, and entitled 
to the precedence. This theory, however, has since been knocked into a 
cocked hat, as it has been shown that the old citizen with a few honorable and 
noteworthy exceptions were entirely unequal to the emergency. One of their 
chief characteristics being a love for everything that smacks of the customs 
and usages of day before yesterday. The old citizen is decidedly aristocratic 
in his air and manners and though he followed the humble occupation, ton- 


and took considerable pride in their "blood." This pride 
was based upon their white ancestry. 10 For example, a de- 

sorial and physiognomical artist and white washer in chief to some of the 
'fust' families in Washington, it does not lessen my respect for him provided 
his head isn't too large for his hat. He has seen Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, 
Ben Wade and Joshua R. Giddings. He used to shave these great luminaries, 
which is the only consolation that the memories of departed days can now 
give him. He considers his existence and his experiences as being particularly 
beneficial to mankind, why or how nobody seems to know . . . ." (manuscript 
document by John E. Bruce in the Schomburg Collection, New York Pub- 
lic Library). 

10 The author of the satire on "Washington's Colored Society" makes 
the following strictures on those who boast of white ancestry: "There is 
another element in this strange heterogeneous conglomeration, which for 
want of a better name has been styled society and it is the species of African 
humanity which is forever and ever informing the uninitiated what a narrow 
escape they had from being born white. They have small hands, aristocratic 
insteps and wear blue veins, they have auburn hair and finely chiselled fea- 
tures. They are uneducated as a rule (i.e.) the largest number of them, though 
it would hardly be discovered unless they opened their mouths in the presence 
of their superiors in intellect, which they are very careful not to do. In 
personal appearance, they fill the bill precisely so far as importance and 
pomposity goes but no farther. They are opposed to manual labor, their 
physical organization couldn't stand it, they prefer light work such as 'shuf- 
fling cards or dice* or 'removing the spirits of Frumenta from the gaze of rude 
men' if somebody else becomes responsible for the damage. Around the fes- 
tive board, they are unequalled for their verbosity and especially for their 
aptness in tracing their ancestry. One will carry you away back to the times 
of William the Silent and bring you up to 18 so and so, to show how illus- 
trious is his lineage and pedigree. His great, great grandfather's mother in 
law was the Marchioness So and So and his father was ex Chief Justice 
Chastity of S.C. or some other southern state with a polygamous record. 
Another will tell you all about his folks, their habits, temperament and dis- 
position and their keen sense of honor. They never brooked an insult in 
their lives oh no. They flourished in the days when it was not considered 
a healthy pastime to call a white man a liar his half brother Col. Slaughter 
had a private cemetery set apart for him by the state of 'Guwgegia' for the 
reception of all those who so far forgot themselves as to offend him by ques- 
tioning his veracity or by offering an insult to any of his lady friends. With 


scendant of one of these families recounts the fact that her 
grandmother constantly exhorted both her children and her 
grandchildren to maintain decorum and the highest stand- 
ards of morals with the reminder that they were descended 
from the X's, a well-known aristocratic white family of Vir- 
ginia. The same pride in white ancestry was displayed by 
an old established mulatto family in a northern city who de- 
fended their claim to equality with whites and pre-eminence 
among Negroes on the ground that they bore in their veins 
the blood of an aristocratic senator and a Spanish nobleman. 
This pride in white ancestry has usually been based upon 
the belief in the superior hereditary qualities of their white 
ancestors and has been associated with a disdain of poor 
white people. Although this latter attitude has been chiefly 
characteristic of old established mulatto families in southern 
communities, we find Du Bois as a child in a faraway town 
in New England exhibiting the same attitude. He writes: 
"I cordially despised the poor Irish and South Germans, 
who slaved in the mills, and annexed the rich and well-to-do 
as my natural companions." 11 Although there is no way of 

the possible exception of the Immortal Don Quixote, Col. Slaughter was the 
most gallant knight that ever shot a pistol or drew a dagger in defense of 
that noble creature woman. Gallantry unlike intelligence is transmitted 
from generation to generation, why this is thusly I am unable to conjecture. 
Hence the narrator of the wonderful exploits of Col. Slaughter and by the 
way a blood relative too, will take pains before the end of his story to in- 
form you that he has the blood of the Slaughters of Murderville in his veins 
and the he's a b-a-d man when he's started. These misguided unfortunates 
are exceedingly sensitive or affect to be so anyhow, they are the most exacting 
class to be met with in the whole range of Washington Colored Society." 

11 Du Bois, who says he was born "with a flood of Negro blood, a strain 
of French, a bit of Dutch" but thanks God for no "Anglo-Saxon," says 
concerning his grandfather: " Always he held his head high, took no insults, 
made few friends. He was not a 'Negro'; he was a man!" (Darkwater [New 


estimating the incalculable effects of biological heredity 
even in those families that can substantiate their claim to 
descent from aristocratic whites, nevertheless, traditions 
concerning aristocratic descent have left their mark upon 
the behavior and outlook on life of these families. 

What, then, are some of the traditions which these old 
mulatto families have preserved respecting descent from 
aristocratic or prominent families? 12 Let us begin with the 
family history of a prominent professional man's wife who 
for years was a sort of arbiter in the "society life" of a Negro 
community in the North. She gives the following account 
of her white ancestry : 

My father was a general in the Civil War and a lawyer. He played 
a prominent part in the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and 
became a multimillionaire. He educated me and brought me up in the 
family with his white grandchildren as he was quite old. His greatest 
desire was that I should not be identified with colored people. He 
travelled about a great deal in a private car and always took me with 
him. He wanted me to be adopted by his oldest daughter who was in 
Mexico. He had the greatest horror of my being married to a Negro. 

York, 1920], pp. 8-9). In regard to his grandfather's ancestry, he writes: 
"Louis XIV drove two Hugenots, Jacques and Louis Du Bois, into wild 
Ulster County, New York. One of them in the third or fourth generation 
had a descendant, Dr. James Du Bois, a gay, rich bachelor, who made his 
money in the Bahamas, where he and the Gilberts had plantations. There 
he took a beautiful little mulatto slave as his mistress, and two sons were 
born: Alexander in 1803 and John, later. They were fine, straight, clear- 
eyed boys, white enough to 'pass/ He brought them to America and put 
Alexander in the celebrated Cheshire School, in Connecticut. Here he often 
visited him, but one last time, fell dead. He left no will, and his relations 
made short shrift of these sons. They gathered in the property, apprenticed 
grandfather to a shoemaker; then dropped him" (ibid., pp. 7-8). 

" This information was secured through questionnaires sent to persons 
listed in Who's Who in Colored America, 1928-1929 and family-history docu- 
ments collected in various colored communities in both the North and 
the South. 


Many a time I have heard him say that he would blow my brains 
out rather than see me married to a Negro. I was about eight years 
old when they were talking about adopting me. My mother had no 
objection and I would have always preferred living at the "Big 
House" but she objected to the legal adoption. I was the child of 
his old age and looked like him he was a sort of swarthy. Even after 
I married a colored man and he had disinherited me he was inclined 
to become reconciled to me but he died during a stroke.^ 

Naturally, the white ancestors are more remote where a 
mulatto caste has grown up and the mulatto families have 
intermarried. In Charleston, as we have seen, some of the 
old mulatto families traced their descent from some of the 
French refugees from Haiti who sought an asylum in 
Charleston and other cities along the Atlantic coast. 14 The 
same is true of some of the old families in the North. For 
example, an old family in Chicago traced its family line on 
one side to a United States senator who was a member of a 
distinguished Kentucky family : 

*3 Manuscript document. Shannon, a former chaplain of the Mississippi 
State Penitentiary, who has been greatly disturbed for years over the 
mulatto, remarks derisively that the "romancing fancy" of mulattoes has 
caused them to claim direct lineal descent from most of the prominent south- 
ern families. He adds: "It would be a revelation to their admirers could they 
know how widely traditions exist among Negroes involving higher Northern 
officers prominent in the Civil War, and later" (A. H. Shannon, The Negro 
in Washington [New York, 1930], p. 87). The document cited above is one 
of the few cases among thousands of family questionnaires, and hundreds of 
documents from families in various parts of the South and from students in 
the most prominent colleges attended by Negroes, in which any claim is 
made to descent from northern officers prominent in the Civil War. More- 
over, it seems that it has not only been the "romancing fancy" of mulattoes 
that has been responsible for their claim to descent from the southern white 
aristocracy. If one may accept Andrew Johnson's statements (see pp. 78-79, 
n. 31, above) as true, the claims which mulattoes put forth are rather 

'< See Doc. XII, Appen. A. 


My father was the grandson of Senator C. However, he was reared 
by his colored grandfather and took his name. He had two brothers 
and one sister. One brother had blonde hair and blue eyes and dis- 
appeared some years ago presumably into the white race. My other 
uncle married into the D. family, an old Philadelphia family, one 
member of whom was in the diplomatic service. As they had no chil- 
dren, they adopted a girl who is a teacher in Philadelphia. She is very 
aristocratic and moves in a very restricted circle. 1 * 

There are families who claim even more distinguished 
white ancestry than senators and governors. For antiquity 
of family line, a prominent physican, who is engaged in 
health work among Negroes in the country, could claim 
first place. In letters which he has from the English branch 
of his family, the history of the family name is traced back 
to the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. However, 
this physician only claimed actual knowledge of an English 
grandfather who had a child, his own father, by a mulatto 
woman in Missouri in 1861. Next in age of lineage was the 
tradition preserved in the family of a social worker and 
teacher in New York City that her grandmother, who was 
born in Holland, could trace her ancestry back to William 
of Orange. Then, there are families who claim descent from 
presidents of the United States. A schoolteacher, whose 
great-grandfather was a missionary in Trinidad and built 
a church in Baltimore, said that this pioneer in the religious 
life of the Negro was supposed to have been a cousin of his 
white benefactor who was a president of the United States. 
Another teacher, in an old town in Virginia, whose parents 
were also teachers, claimed that her great-great-grand- 
mother on her mother's side was the daughter of a distin- 

*s Contrary to Shannon's strictures, this family, like many others claiming 
descent from prominent whites, took its family name from the supposititious 
Negro ancestor. 


guished president and lived to be a hundred and four years 
old. An old clergyman and teacher with two sons and a 
daughter who have obtained higher degrees from northern 
universities modestly stated that his great-grandfather was 
said to be the son of a president of the United States who was 
also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 
From this same president the principal of a colored high 
school in a city in New Jersey claims descent. Three other 
widely separated families claimed descent from a less dis- 
tinguished president. One was the family of the wife of a 
college professor in a southern city; another was an out- 
standing clergyman in a northern city; and a third was a 
supervisor of county schools in the South, whose brother is 
a distinguished Episcopal prelate. 16 

Of course, the vast majority of these old families who 
claim aristocratic ancestry do not assert that they are de- 
scended from presidents or other such distinguished people. 
They simply trace their families back to the landowning 
aristocracy. The following document is typical of the tradi- 
tions which have been preserved by the majority of these 

16 Some years ago the following news item appeared on the front page 
of the Afro-American (January 28, 1933): 


FAUNSDALE, ALA. Mrs. Mary Davis (affectionately called "Aunt Mary"), who died 
recently at her homestead at the age of 90, widow of Philip M. Davis, who died 25 years ago, 
was known and loved by all races for her lofty ideals, thrift and industry. In her prime Mrs. 
Davis was a dressmaker, catering to the wealthy people of this section. She was the daughter 
of Margaret Willis and Oliver Harrison who was a descendant of William Henry Harrison, 
ninth President of the United States and third son of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Dec- 
laration of Independence. All her life Mrs. Davis lived within the family circle of the white 
Harrisons and Stickneys, Warrens and Collins. The family ties were lasting. A younger white 
descendant of the Harrisons cared for her and followed her to the grave. Mrs. Davis was the 
mother of 13 children. 

Then follows a list of these children who are prominent in the educational, 
economic, political, and civic life of the Negro in various parts of the country. 


families concerning white ancestry and the cultural advan- 
tages which such ancestry has afforded them. From the 
family history of a college student, we have the following: 

The oldest ancestor of my family that I know is my great grand- 
father, W. P., a Mississippi slave owner. He was quite rich owning a 
great deal of property near Lauderdale, Miss. My great grandmother, 
A. R., a very beautiful young woman, was one of his mulatto slaves. 
These were my great grand parents on my fathers side. A. R. had 
five children for W. P. The third child, a boy named W. H. P., was 
born in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He was the favorite child of his father, and 
lived in what was termed the "big house." All of his training from the 
standpoint of books was personally supervised by his father and his 
father's white wife. He was never considered a slave, his color, hair, 
and features were those of any white man. He had a half brother who 
was a leading physician in the South, and the relationship was not 
concealed. In later years, it was from this uncle that one of W. H. P.'s 
sons, (my father) received his first inspiration to become a physician. 17 

It was quite natural that families that placed so much 
value upon their white ancestry should have excluded from 
marriage and intimate association the unmixed Negroes. 
However, in estimating the role which a light skin and white 
blood have played as a bond of sympathy between these 
families or as a means of entering the upper class, there has 
been a tendency to oversimplify the problem. To outside 
observers it has often appeared that color was the only dis- 
tinguishing mark of this class, and it alone made an indi- 
vidual or family eligible for entrance into it. But, as we 
shall see, color was only one factor, and it symbolized other 
factors. For example, although there was considerable prej- 
udice on the part of the old mulatto families in Charleston 
against association with the blacks, nevertheless at least 
two black families were generally accepted as belonging to 

*' Manuscript document. 


the upper class. This was due to the fact that these black 
families could boast of free ancestry and were as well sit- 
uated economically as the mulatto families. On the other 
hand, although these black families were members of the ex- 
clusive church to which the mulattoes belonged, there was 
still some resistance to admitting them into the most inti- 
mate associations. A member of one of the old mulatto fami- 
lies frankly confessed that black families of free origin were 
always referred to within the circle of the mulatto families 
by a whispered epithet which designated them as a peculiar 
kind of free persons of color. Moreover, although these black 
aristocrats were received by the mulattoes on formal occa- 
sions, they knew instinctively, as it were, that they should 
not seek a marriage alliance with the mulatto and that they 
were not expected at the intimate social functions although 
they received invitations. Although the mulatto families in 
Charleston have modified their attitudes toward dark Ne- 
groes during recent years, even within the last two decades 
some of them still exhibited, in regard to dark Negroes, the 
attitude described in the following document: 

There were three Negro families in our block and immediate vicin- 
ity, the R.'s, S.'s, and our family, the T.'s. The S.'s were an aged black 
widow, who sold vegetables and charcoal, and her crippled son and 
two young grandsons, with whom she lived. The rest of the people of 
the community were Irish-Catholics with the exception of the L.'s 
and M/s, wealthy Jews. To these whites we were considered thrifty, 
intelligent, progressive Negroes, but under their breath, "niggers." 
But to the R.'s, a very fair, "blue blood" Charleston, family we were 
inferior and far below them in social status. Although more members 
of my family had been to high school and college, and our home was 
more pretentious than theirs, they were obsessed with the idea of 
being our superiors. They were of an old free, mulatto Charleston 
family, who had been there for years and years, while we were up- 
starts in Charleston, who had lived there for just about twenty years 


or so. We were members of the Methodist church; whereas the R/s 
were members of the high tone St. Marks Episcopal Church, where 
for many years nothing darker than an octoroon attended. 

The R/s had six children, whereas there were eight in my family. 
However, their children were of the same age as the six younger ones 
in my family. When we first moved into the community after my 
father's death, the children of the two families made attempts to be- 
come friendly, but the R.'s forbade their children to associate with us. 
So deeply did their parents instill in them the idea of their superiority 
that they would turn up their clothes to us, thumb their noses at us, 
call us "niggers," and act in a manner that would typify the behavior 
of the lowest Georgia "cracker" to a Negro. The relation existing be- 
tween the children of these two families was not the desire of the 
children of either family. The children simply accepted the instruc- 
tions of their parents. When Mrs. R. scolded Jimmy for playing 
marbles with me, my mother reprimanded me also. Naturally she 
would not accept the belief that her child was inferior, or perchance 
endanger her self-esteem by having it thought that she desired the 
association and consequent recognition of the R. family. When we 
played ball with some of the white kids of the community, Jimmy R. 
would always have to leave if one of us were in the game. If Oscar, 
the little black-skinned grandson of Mrs. S. were there, it was all 
right, since his family accepted their inferior status. Mrs. S. did their 
washing, and I should add, ours also. Then, too, we had the same 
family physician. Oscar would run their errands and receive some of 
Jimmy's old clothes. But the R.'s referred to us as "nappy-haired 
niggers," and well do I recall my mother telling us not to mind "those 
half white asses, they have no sense and little education." With pride 
Mother pointed to the educational achievements of her children. It 
appeared that the R.'s rigid family pattern, with its ultra exclusive- 
ness, made for deterioration. Not any of the children have gone higher 
in school than the eighth grade, and it took them twelve years to do 

The R. children never walked on our side of the street, that is, in 
front of our door. When they wanted to go to Mrs. S.'s little shanty, 
they would walk on their side and cross in the middle of the block to 
reach her home. Not even has death been able to bring about the 
slightest communication between the families. When Jimmy died at 


the age of 17, we sent no condolences. Although when I finished high 
school, Mr. R. spoke to me for the first time, the separation still goes 
on. We live on one side of the street, and they live on the other. An 
insurmountable barrier separates us social caste. But, interestingly, 
the children of the two families have met in other cities; for example, 
in New York. There the barriers were broken down and my brother 
took one of the R. girls to many dances. In Charleston that could 
never have happened. 

The same type of caste sentiment, in which prejudice 
against the dark-skinned Negro finds expression, has ex- 
isted among groups of mulatto families in other communi- 
ties. However, it should be pointed out that this attitude 
has been bound up with a pride in family background and a 
consciousness of the superior culture of this group. Mulat- 
toes, who were without family background or other attain- 
ments, were generally not accepted into this mulatto caste. 
Moreover, the prejudice of this group against the unmixed 
Negro did not necessarily involve repugnance toward the 
individual black Negro. It was more a question of social 
status and traditions. 18 When these closely knit mulatto 
communities have disintegrated and individuals and families 
have become scattered, they have tended to lose their prej- 
udice against the black Negro. This has been true in recent 
years, especially in the large urban communities where the 
Negro along with other people wins a place, not because of 

18 A member of an old mulatto family reports that when her mother 
thought that she was falling in love with the black poet, Dunbar, her mother 
immediately told her that, no matter how great a poet Dunbar was, a person 
as black as he could not become a member of their family. Where the question 
of social status has been involved, mulattoes have even refused to present a 
black mother to their friends or have concealed pictures of black relatives. 
But the very fact that a mulatto's mother was black indicated that there 
was marriage outside the caste or that the mulattoes were the children of 
white fathers and the family had not been integrated into the mulatto caste. 


family status but through competition. Of course, individual 
mulattoes may retain their prejudices against the black, 
but it will no longer have the support of a caste. In such 
cases his white skin will become the means whereby he 
gains economic advantages and satisfies individual wishes. 
He may not go downtown with a black Negro because he 
may be identified and lose his job or be subjected to insults 
and discrimination. Or the light skin of the mulatto woman 
especially may acquire a purely symbolic value for the black 
man who has won his way up in the world. But in such 
cases the light skin is no longer the distinguishing mark of a 
caste or even of a class which is open to those who achieve 
success. 19 

Next to "blood," which in the majority of instances meant 
white ancestry, these families have taken pride in their cul- 
tural attainments which have distinguished them from the 
masses and have been the basis of their ascendancy in the 
Negro world. 20 As a mark of their superior culture, they 
have endeavored first to speak the uncorrupted language of 
the cultured whites. By this external mark of culture they 
have often endeavored to emphasize their superiority to the 
ignorant plantation Negro or city slum-dweller. It was 
among this class that much opposition was expressed to the 
dialect poems of Dunbar. 

The language spoken by this group showed the influence 
of intimate contacts with the whites as well as educational 

19 The relation of color distinctions among Negroes to the new class 
alignments will be discussed in the next chapter. 

30 When traditions have been preserved in these old families concerning 
Negro forebears, these ancestors have usually been African "kings" and 
"princesses" or in rare instances some slave who revolted against the whites. 
The same is true of Indian ancestors who, as a rule, were reputed to have 
been chiefs or princesses. 


advantages. In the North these old families have for several 
generations had more or less close contacts with the whites 
not only as servants but in the schools and other institutions. 
In their childhood they have become acquainted with the 
best literature, and, since this was regarded as a mark of 
culture, they placed considerable emphasis upon this aspect 
of the white man's culture. Naturally, this behavior has 
not been mere imitation or affectation but has unconsciously 
become habitual and incorporated into their general be- 
havior. It has simply been part of the process by which 
northern Negroes have been able to assimilate more of the 
white man's culture than their southern brothers. On the 
other hand, in the South where the old families have ceased 
to have intimate contacts with the whites, they have been 
compelled to draw on their own cultural resources which 
were acquired through contacts at an earlier period. Conse- 
quently, this aspect of their cultural heritage has been cul- 
tivated to a large extent in the Negro colleges. It was from 
this class that the majority of the students were recruited 
for the colleges and academies that were established by 
northern white missionaries after the Civil War. These 
schools gave the student much more than a formal educa- 
tion, inasmuch as the white missionaries from New England 
lived in close personal contacts with the students and en- 
couraged their aspirations to attain social equality and cul- 
tural identity with the whites. This education was very 
much the same as the classical education of the day. The 
students were drilled in English literature and grammar and 
given fundamental instruction in the ancient classics be- 
cause of its supposed disciplinary value. Through such influ- 
ences the culture of this group was maintained and en- 


In the South these old families took over patterns of be- 
havior which were associated with the ideal of the southern 
lady and southern gentleman. 21 Consequently, the man was 
expected to be lavish with his money, courteous toward 
women of his class, to defend the honor of his home, and to 
philander as a gentleman would. The woman was expected 
to remain chaste and be under the chaperonage of her par- 
ents, preserve a certain delicacy and modesty, and to show 
none of the coarser qualities of the black women, who were 
often her servants. Naturally, when such ideals and valua- 
tions had a slender economic basis, they led to habits of con- 
sumption that made them appear improvident and thrift- 
less. In fact, many of the sons of these mulatto families with 
a small competence wasted their resources because of their 
ideals of what was proper and thereby caused the dissolu- 
tion of these families. Then, too, the fact that the heads of 
some of these families, possibly to a larger extent in the 
North than in the South, derived their income from such 
positions as steward and head waiter in clubs and hotels 
made their standards of consumption appear ludicrous. 

But all this does not mean that the culture of this group 
was a hollow pretense or a mere caricature of white civiliza- 
tion. Of course, if one evaluates critically the depth and 
genuineness of their cultural heritage, the seamy side be- 
comes apparent. But these people were not, as they have 
been represented, crude field Negroes who had acquired a 
smattering of Greek or Latin and Shakespeare. The classi- 
cal tradition on which they were fed was the cultural tradi- 
tion of the period. From this tradition many of them drew 

31 Some families took pride in the fact that a mulatto ancestor could not 
be distinguished by his physical appearance, dress, manners, and speech from 
his white half-brother. 


real inspiration and mental nourishment. In the English 
and ancient classics they often discovered a philosophy of 
life and a guide to their behavior. But, because of their iso- 
lation, their cultural heritage became ingrown and highly 
formalized. Therefore, even the most superficial aspects of 
their culture were often supported by the deepest sentiment. 
In their social life, social ritual and social graces were often 
observed with a moral earnestness. 22 And, when one views 
their creative efforts, their performances appear naive and 
pitiable. One needs only to read the poetry which this group 
produced to realize how far their sorry imitations encouched 
in stilted language and burdened with classical references 
fell below accepted literary standards. Or if one takes a 
peep into their "literary societies" in which the frail vines 
of their culture were watered, there is certainly cause for 
amusement. These societies have about them an atmosphere 
of artificiality and aloofness from the real world. But, de- 
spite the apparent hollowness of their traditions concerning 
aristocratic blood and their naive pride in their cultural 
heritage, these traditions and beliefs shaped their morals as 
well as their manners. 

For a long time these old established families were able 
to maintain their ascendancy in the Negro group and to 
preserve their traditions of family life behind the walls 
of caste sentiment. But when the isolation in which they 
lived was broken down by the social and economic changes 
in American life in general and by the increasing mobility 
of the Negro, they found their secure and privileged position 
menaced. Their ascendancy was challenged by the new eco- 
nomic classes that were coming into existence as the result 

33 Some of these old families still preserve invitations and greetings dating 
before the Civil War as testimonials of the cultural heritage. 


of the increasing differentiation of the Negro population. To 
meet this menace not only to their privileged position but 
also to their standards of morals and family life, they have 
often retreated farther within their own circle and cried 
"0 tempora, O mores/' A young professional woman who 
is a member of one of these old southern families wrote the 
following bitter complaint against the degradation of morals 
which had taken place as the result of the impact of new 
economic classes on the traditional social structure in her 
community : 

There was a time when A. could boast of many aristocratic and cul- 
tured families. Men who have made places for themselves in the world 
have come from these old families. X. and Y. are representative of the 
kind of character that A. of a generation ago afforded. That day has 
passed into oblivion; and the select people who remain are those of 
that generation. When my mother married, she sent out five hundred 
invitations in the city. I doubt that I could send fifty to such inti- 
mate friends as those to whom my mother's were sent. There just 
simply isn't any "society" in A. 

The large group that stands in the front rank of A.'s society is 
composed of the "rat" type. "And how did the 'rats' push to the 
front ranks?" you ask. Social standards began to drop about twenty- 
seven years ago when several professional men a doctor and a lawyer, 
in particular, who now live in Chicago in the interest of their pro- 
fessions, opened their homes to the entertainment of persons regard- 
less of their social standing. Several years ago, a bootlegger and speak- 
easy proprietor brought his wife to the city. She was very pretty, 
except for the dark and sunken rings about her eyes from dissipation. 
In six month's time, she led A.'s "exclusive social set." And sad to say, 
there were some young people who if they had stayed together could 
have made up a small 61ite social group. But being afraid that they 
would not enjoy all the real social life, they "let down the bars," be- 
came intimate with the bootlegger's wife and visited her home. I 
live at home through my vacation without contacts, for the best is 
too bad. I am not snobbish; I am stating facts. If I were to attend a 
dance, my escort and the men I dance with would be men with "repu- 


tations." It seems that nobody will bar the undesirable. Perhaps no- 
body can. As for me, I do not entertain. There are some young people 
who themselves are nice and congenial, but whom I cannot afford to 
entertain in my home. Those whom I once could have entertained 
have permitted themselves to become victims of this social degrada- 
tion, thereby rendering themselves undesirable and unfit now. 

The attitude expressed in this document is typical of the 
attitude of this heretofore privileged group in other Negro 
communities. Their protest against the degradation of 
morals and manners has not been entirely without founda- 
tion. There was often cause for genuine contempt for the 
crudeness and exhibitionism of those who had suddenly ac- 
quired prominence because of their education and relatively 
high economic status in the Negro community. They ap- 
preciated the fundamental difference between a man or 
woman without a background of culture and normal family 
life who had secured a formal college education and that 
often in an inferior Negro college and the man or woman 
with a background of several generations of stable family 
life and civilized conduct. Consequently, they resented the 
pretensions of a doctor or businessman who often revealed 
in his ungrammatical speech, vulgar manners, and ostenta- 
tious home a lack of the fundamentals of true culture. 

In some instances these old families have sought a refuge 
in their memories and nurtured their children on their past 
achievements. Within the narrow circle of a few select fami- 
lies, they have lived a life that was reminiscent of a world 
that had vanished. Even today where they continue to live 
in isolation, their quaint mode of dress and constrained 
manners often give their exclusive social gatherings the at- 
mosphere of an animated museum. 23 Their children, over- 

*J The satirist of "Washington's Colored Society" wrote that the "fust" 
families in 1877 "had all the habits and customs of the day before yesterday 


burdened and hedged about by outworn traditions, have 
proved poor competitors in the struggle with the ambitious 
representatives of undistinguished families in the new world 
of the modern city. But, on the whole, these old families, 
being unable to resist the march of events, have gradually 
intermarried or merged otherwise with those elements in 
the Negro community who have made their way to the top 
of the new class structure. Their cultural heritage, though 
modified, has contributed to the stability and character of 
the emerging Negro middle class. 24 

The extent to which the differentiation of the Negro popu- 
lation has progressed during the present century is indi- 
cated in a general way by the changes since 1900 in the 

hanging to them and about them as tenaciously and persistently as the 
barnacles on seashells. They live in old fashioned homes way uptown, down- 
town and across town. They dress in the same style that their illustrious 
predecessors did half a century ago. It was from this class that the mother 
of George Washington procured nurses for her distinguished and immortal 
son now called the 'Father of his country/ All the leading white washers, 
coachmen, valets and servants in ordinaire were furnished the 'fust families' 
of the white race from this class, half a century ago. Those of them now 

living in Washington wouldn't be caught dead with an ordinary Negro 

The most of their company consists of antiquated old white people, many 
of whom are near death's door. The 'fust families' of Washington Colored 
Society keep a servant, two dogs, a torn cat and a rifle that saw service in 
1776. They are pensioners provided they or their ancestors lived with the 

'bloods' of their day and generation There is more family pride to the 

square inch in the hide of the 'fust families' than there are fleas on a dog's 
back. To marry their children out of the circle in which they have been 
accustomed to mingle is decidedly out of the question and contrary to both 
their religious and social views. It has been said, whether truthfully or 
falsely I know not, that the species of misguided humanity with whose 
characteristics I am dealing, secretly hope to become absorbed by the white 
or Caucasian race." 

a * The role of the old families in the new middle class will be discussed in 
the next chapter. 


proportion of Negroes in the broad occupational divisions 
(Table 24). The most important change has occurred in the 
field of agriculture. From 54.6 per cent in 1910, the per- 
centage of Negroes employed in agriculture declined to 36.1 
in 1930. Although from 1910 to 1920 the percentage em- 
ployed in manufacturing increased from 12.6 to 18.2, there 
was practically no change during the next decade. However, 

TABLE 24* 

THE UNITED STATES, 1930, 1920, AND 1910 























I .2 








* U.S. Bureau of the Census, Negroes in the United States: 1920-33, p. 290. 

the increase in the proportion employed in transportation, 
trade, and the extraction of minerals continued up to 1930. 
This was also true for professional occupations; but not true 
in regard to clerical and public services, where there were 
slight losses in 1930 as compared with the gains observable 
in 1920. These figures indicate that the shift from agricul- 
tural occupations between 1910 and 1920 resulted in in- 
creases in all the other occupations, except domestic service, 
whereas during the next decade the workers who shifted 
from agriculture were absorbed in domestic service. 


The changes in the occupational status of the Negro have, 
of course, come about as the result of urbanization. There- 
fore, in order to get a better view of these changes, we shall 
consider some of the results of a study of the occupational 
status of the Negro in 1920 in fifteen cities six northern, 
six southern, and three border cities. 25 Moreover, the re- 
sults of this study enable us to get a more accurate picture 
of the social and economic differentiation of the Negro popu- 
lation than the broad occupational divisions in the census. 26 
Beginning with the professional group, we find that the 
northern cities have relatively more men in professional 
services than the southern and border cities. The fact that 
the proportion of women in professional occupations in the 
northern cities did not exceed that in the southern and 
border cities was due to the large numbers of teachers in the 
separate school systems in these cities. It is also important 
in comparing these cities to note that the composition of the 
professional class in northern cities was quite different from 
the same class in southern cities. For example, in Atlanta 
and Birmingham, about 52 per cent of the professional class 
was composed of clergymen; whereas in Boston and New 
York, clergymen comprised only 11.2 per cent of the pro- 
fessional classes. 

* See the author's "Occupational Classes among Negroes in Cities," 
American Journal of Sociology, XXXV, 718-38. The northern cities included 
Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle; the border 
cities, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Washington, D.C.; the southern cities, 
Atlanta, Birmingham, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, and Richmond. 

36 In the article referred to, the Negro wage-earners as given in the United 
States census for 1920 were distributed according to eight socioeconomic 
classes, which were created by grouping significantly related occupations. 
The major occupational divisions used in the census were ignored on the 
whole (see ibid., p. 720, n. 7, for a description of the eight occupational 


Similar differences between northern cities, on the one 
hand, and border and southern cities, on the other, appeared 
in respect to the other occupational classes. All northern 
cities showed a smaller percentage in public service than 
southern and border cities; with the exception of the Dis- 
trict of Columbia, where the federal government affords 
considerable employment. This was doubtless due to the 
participation of the Negro in the political life of northern 
cities and the absence of a rigid color bar. The same situa- 
tion was true in regard to clerical occupations. However, 
when we come to those engaged in trade, we find that, al- 
though only Chicago, where numerous Negro enterprises 
have sprung up to serve the demands of the large Negro 
community, showed as large a proportion in this class as 
the third highest southern city, all the northern cities, with 
the exception of Cleveland, exceeded the other southern cities. 
Before comparing these cities with reference to the various 
classes of industrial workers, it should be noted that with 
the exception of Richmond, where large numbers of Negro 
women are employed in the tobacco industry, the percentage 
of women employed in domestic service was significantly 
higher in southern cities than in northern cities, with the ex- 
ception of Philadelphia. On the other hand, the proportion 
of Negro men in domestic service was conspicuously higher 
in northern cities than in both border and southern cities. 

Taking first those employed as laborers, we find that 
southern and border cities had on the whole a larger propor- 
tion of both male and female workers in this class than 
northern cities. The same situation was found in the case 
of men in semiskilled occupations. The border and northern 
cities, with the exception of Seattle, had a larger proportion 
of Negro women in semiskilled occupations than the southern 


cities. However, the northern cities had a larger proportion 
of women in skilled occupations. The proportion of men in 
skilled occupation in each of six northern cities was matched 
by one of the southern cities, the border cities making a 
poorer showing than either southern or northern cities. 

Although the occupational differentiation of the Negro 
population has progressed considerably during the present 
century, the emergence of these new socioeconomic classes 
has been too recent to effect a crystallization of distinctive 
patterns of behavior for each of these classes. Each class re- 
flects more or less the broad undifferentiated cultural back- 
ground in which it is rooted. In the absence of class tradi- 
tions, imitation and suggestion play an important role, and 
there is much confusion in respect to standards of behavior 
and consumption. Therefore, the following chapters upon 
the family of the middle class and the urban proletariat deal 
with family forms and types of family behavior which are in 
the process of becoming crystallized in the urban environ- 


The Negro middle class signalized its achievement of self- 
consciousness in the organization of the National Negro 
Business League in 1900 under the leadership of Booker T. 
Washington. This organization was the culmination of a 
movement fostered by Negro leaders, which had its begin- 
ning in the eighties and nineties. 1 The belated evolution of 
this class as well as its mental isolation was revealed in the 
resolutions of the leaders gathered in Atlanta in 1898. These 
resolutions contained a naive profession of faith in individual 
thrift and individual enterprise in a world that was rapidly 
entering a period of corporate wealth. 2 Hence, today when 
the economic foundations of the Negro middle class are ex- 
plored, as was done in a fundamental study of banking, they 
are found insubstantial and insecure. 3 However, here we 
are primarily concerned not with the economic basis of this 
class but rather with the traditions, mores, and patterns of 
behavior that determine the character and organization of 
its family life. 

Concerning the growth and character of Negro business 
during the present century, Doctor Harris writes : 

The actual growth in Negro business is shown by the fact that in 
1898, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois' careful investigation showed only 1,900 
enterprises, while in 1930 there were 70,000. This growth was paral- 
leled by an increase in the number of Negroes in white-collar occupa- 
tions, a large number of whom were employed in Negro enterprises 

1 Abram L. Harris, The Negro as Capitalist (Philadelphia, 1936), pp. 49-54. 
* See ibid., pp. 52-53. * Ibid., passim. 



and in other specifically racial undertakings. In 1920 there were 
34,434 Negro stenographers, bookkeepers, advertising and insurance 
agents, salesmen and clerks in stores, and floorwalkers and inspectors. 
In 1930 the number in these occupations had increased to 59,301. In 
1920, Negro bankers, brokers, real estate agents, retail and wholesale 
dealers and undertakers numbered 26,822, but in 1933 the number had 
increased to 35,833. 

The largest number of successful business ventures conducted by 
Negroes has been in the field of personal service restaurants, beauty 
parlors, barber shops and funeral parlors. Here racial discrimination 
is general. For this reason, Negro businesses have been described as 
"defensive enterprises," the product of racial segregation. Few, if any 
significant or large commercial and industrial enterprises have been 
organized. * 

The middle-class group, whose family life we are con- 
sidering, includes, in addition to those in business enter- 
prises and white-collar occupations, men and women en- 
gaged in professional pursuits and employed in responsible 
positions in public service. 5 In limiting the new Negro 
middle class which has emerged in recent years to these four 
occupational classes, we have omitted representatives of 
other occupational classes who maintain similar standards of 
behavior and are sometimes accepted socially by members 
of the middle class. But here we are dealing with an eco- 
nomic class composed of certain occupational groups that 
may be identified statistically. 

In the last chapter we have considered the size of these 
four occupational classes in the gainfully employed popula- 
tion of fifteen cities in 1920. Since 1920 significant changes 
have taken place in the size of these four classes. In each of 

< Ibid., pp. 53-54. 

5 See Table 52, Appen, B. Those engaged in business enterprise and white- 
collar occupations have been placed according to our classification under 
trade and clerical occupations. 


the fifteen cities there has been an increase in the relative 
size of the professional class. 6 On the whole, the increase in 
the relative size of the professional group has been greater 
in northern cities than in southern cities. The increase in 
the relative size of the professional group has been greatest 
in the District of Columbia, where the percentage increased 
from 2.7 in 1920 to 4.6 in 1930. Although in 1920 there was 
a significantly larger proportion of Negroes employed in 
public service in the northern cities than in the southern 
cities, during the succeeding decade the proportion increased 
slightly in southern cities; whereas in four of the six north- 
ern cities there was a slight decline. There was a similar de- 
cline in two of the border cities Baltimore and Washing- 
ton, although the proportion in public service in Washington 
has undoubtedly increased during recent years as a result 
of the growth of governmental activities. 

If one can take the changes in the relative proportion of 
men in trade as an indication of the effect of the depression 
upon Negro business enterprise and the employment of Ne- 
groes in white-collar positions, it appears that the effects 
have been greatest in the southern cities. In four of the six 
southern cities there was a distinct decline in the proportion 
in trade, while in the other two cities the proportion re- 
mained practically stationary. On the other hand, with the 
exception of Boston and Philadelphia, there were increases 
in the relative proportion of men in trade in northern cities. 
The changes in the relative proportion engaged in clerical 
occupations followed on the whole the changes which we 
have observed in the professional group. There were in- 
creases in all cities, with the largest increases occurring in 
six northern cities. 

6 See Table 52, Appen B. 


Although the Negro middle class has been extremely 
small, it showed signs of growth during the decade from 
1920 to 1930 (see Diagrams IV and V). 7 In 1920 in the six 
southern cities the middle class constituted from 4.3 per 
cent in Birmingham to 7 per cent in Memphis of the em- 
ployed male population. In Cincinnati and Baltimore it con- 
stituted 5.5 per cent, and in the District of Columbia 10.6 
per cent, of the employed males. On the other hand, in the 
northern cities the middle class comprised from 7.9 per 
cent in Philadelphia to 11.4 per cent in Chicago of the 
male workers. During the next decade the size of the middle 
class increased from 6.7 per cent to 7.8 per cent in Atlanta; 
from 6 per cent to 8.8 per cent in Richmond; and from 10.6 
to 11.9 per cent in the District of Columbia. In Chicago the 
relative size of the middle class increased from 10.4 per cent 
to 12.9 per cent; in New York City, from 11.4 per cent to 
13.4 per cent; and in Cleveland, from 5.8 per cent to 8.5 per 
cent. However, in viewing the growth of the middle class, it 
should be pointed out that its growth has been greatest in 
the professions and in clerical services and least in trade or 
business enterprise, which has generally been the basis of 
its economic power. 8 

The family life of the middle class as well as its ideals 
and aspirations and even its physical characteristics reflect 
the different elements in the Negro population from which 
it springs. Physically, the middle class shows that it is com- 
prised largely of men and women of mixed ancestry. Two 
decades ago Reuter found after a detailed study of leaders 
in practically every sphere of Negro life that the vast ma- 

^ See Table 52, Appen. B. 

8 Cf . Lewis Corey, The Crisis of the Middle Class (New York, 1935), pp. 















H Cft fc 

W O 

-H _ . . 
V4 rH -O O 




















|5 fl 


!* sS; 





jority were of mixed blood. Of the 4,267 men and women 
included in his study, 3,239 men and 581 women were of 
mixed blood; whereas only 414 men and 33 women were 
full-blooded Negroes. 9 A study of the grandparents of 311 
persons listed in Who's Who in Colored America: 1928-1929, 
throws light on the ancestry of some of the representatives 
of this class. The information given by those who returned 
questionnaires on their families is presented in Table 25. 
In view of what has been learned concerning the back- 
ground of the Negro, the information given in these ques- 
tionnaires appears to be representative of the upper-class 
Negro. First, it should be pointed out that the persons 
answering the questionnaires had more information concern- 
ing their maternal grandparents than concerning their pa- 
ternal grandparents and that information was lacking in the 
smallest number of cases for their maternal grandmothers. 
In regard to the color and status of their grandparents, we 
find that a relatively larger proportion were free and of 
mixed blood. Then, too, in conformity with our knowledge 
of the relative proportion of mulattoes in the free and slave 
population, we find that, except in the case of their ma- 
ternal grandmothers, a large proportion of the grandparents 
who were slaves were black. On the other hand, the vast 
majority of the grandparents who were free were of mixed 
blood. As one would expect, a fairly large number of the 
grandfathers were white; but it is of interest to note that 
twenty-six reported that their grandmothers were white. 

The figures in Table 25 on the white, mulatto, and free 
ancestry of these persons indicate roughly the element in 
the middle class which springs from the old established 

'Edward B. Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States (Boston, 1918), 



mulatto families. These old families, with their fairly well- 
developed family traditions, constitute a stabilizing and con- 
servative influence in the middle class. Because of their past 


Colored America: 1928-1929 ACCORDING TO STATUS 


































Unknown. . . . 


































Total .... 









* Includes 5 Indian grandfathers and 7 Indian grandmothers, i Mexican, and cases in 
which color was designated as "mixed" or "mixture." 

history, they place great value upon culture and respecta- 
bility. Moreover, to some extent they are responsible for 
the continued emphasis upon a light skin among members of 
the middle class who regard success in one's occupation to- 
gether with a good income as of more importance than mem- 
bership in an old family. A man who through success in 


business or in his profession has a secure economic position 
may marry a fair daughter of one of these old mulatto fami- 
lies in order to consolidate his social status. As a black col- 
lege professor who had risen from the black proletariat re- 
marked concerning his blond wife who came from an old 
family : " You see my wife. I married her so that there would 
be no question about the status of my family. She has the 
right color and, more than that, comes from an old family. " 
Thus, a fair skin in conjunction with and as a symbol of 
family status becomes a value in the new middle class. In 
a study of the members of the National Negro Business 
League, Reuter has shown the tendency of the men in this 
group to select wives of the same or lighter color. 10 

However, in considering the marriage of men to women 
of the same or lighter color, one should take into account the 
process by which the men, especially, of the lower and darker 
strata of the Negro population ascend into the middle class. 
In a study of 1,051 Negro physicians, only 2.9 per cent re- 
ported that their fathers were physicians. Practically a fifth 
reported that their fathers were farmers; 5.2 per cent that 
their fathers were laborers; and 5.8 per cent that their 
fathers were barbers and cooks." Likewise, in a study of 
students attending Negro colleges, it was found that only 
a fourth of the students came from families where the father 
was in professional, business, and clerical occupations. 12 Al- 
though the majority of students in Negro colleges show an 

10 E. B. Reuter, "The Superiority of the Mulatto," American Journal of 
Sociology, XXIII, 103-4. 

" Carter G. Woodson, The Negro Professional Man and ike Community 
(Washington, 1934), pp. 81-82. 

" Ambrose Caliver, A Background Study of Negro College Students (Wash- 
ington, 1933), p. 68. 


admixture of white blood, 13 the boys are on the whole darker 
than the girls. 14 Many of these boys have left their black 
families on the plantations to make their way up in the 
world through the attainment of an education. In choosing 
wives, they naturally make their selection from among their 
college associates or daughters of established families, both 
of whom are likely to be of fairer complexion. Nor should it 
be forgotten that the same applies to the woman of dark 
complexion who, because of personal achievement and fam- 
ily background, may be married to a man with fair skin. 
Thus color loses its caste basis as represented by the older 
mulatto families, and a brown middle class seems to be 
emerging. 15 

In view of the diverse cultural backgrounds from which 
the middle class springs, it is inevitable that there would 
be considerable confusion of ideals and patterns of behavior. 
The brown middle class that is coming into being has 
sloughed off in many cases the traditions of the mulatto 
families as well as the folk culture of the masses. Personal 
achievement in the way of often meager educational attain- 
ments and economic success is becoming the chief require- 
ment for admission into this class. There has not been suffi- 

'3 See Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States, pp. 271-73. 

** It should be noted that students in Negro colleges are darker today 
than twenty years ago, when Reuter made his study. This undoubtedly in- 
dicates vertical mobility in the Negro population. 

j s In Brown America, (New York, 1931) Edwin R. Embree has not only 
presented a popular account of the findings of Dr. Herskovits in regard to 
the emergence of a relatively stable type of brown race, distinguishable from 
both the white and the pure Negro, but he has also given a sympathetic 
description of the achievements and aspirations of the Negro middle class. 
Unfortunately, Mr. Embree identifies the interests and aspirations of this 
class with the entire Negro population; in fact, he writes as if they were the 
entire Negro population. 


cient time for class traditions to be built up, and, in the 
absence of class traditions, suggestion and imitation play 
an important role in the determination of behavior. For 
example, one may find members of the middle class who, 
while boasting of aristocratic and conservative family back- 
ground, claim to be emancipated intellectuals, defend ques- 
tionable stock manipulation by holding companies, and join 
movements to release radicals. Within the same person, 
philistine, bohemian, and creative attitudes strive for ex- 
pression and seek a congenial social environment. 16 

In the absence of traditions along occupational lines, the 
various occupational classes strive to maintain standards of 
consumption set up by the economically better situated 
members of the middle class. These standards in turn have 
often been copied from the wealthy upper white middle 
class. In pointing out the difference between the standards 
of consumption of Negro and white physicians, Professor 
Kelly Miller once stated that he could indicate the cars in 
front of Freedmen's Hospital owned by Negroes by simply 
placing a mark on the more expensive ones. Since stand- 
ards of consumption are regarded as an index to success in 
business and the professions, they determine to some extent 
the status of individuals and families in the middle class. 17 
Therefore, among this class there is much striving, involv- 

16 See William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in 
America (New York, 1927), II, 1853-59, for a discussion of these personal- 
ity types in relation to social organization. 

1 7 As the Negro becomes urbanized, an increasing number of Negroes are 
accumulating wealth through illegal methods. Although, as a rule, they are 
still more or less ostracized by members of the middle class, their children 
usually do not suffer the same social handicap but, because of their economic 
position and education, acquire a high social position in the Negro com- 


ing debts on houses, clothes, and furniture, to maintain an 
appearance of wealth. A women writes the following story 
concerning herself: 

I came from a family that people call rather "well-to-do"; I had 
been accustomed to have everything I wanted as a child, and all 
thru my school days I was accustomed to many elaborate social affairs 
and lovely clothes, as well as extensive travel. 

Against my parents' wishes, I married a fellow who was earning a 
small salary and could not give me the home, the lovely furniture, a 
pretty car, pretty clothes, etc., that I had always had. We moved into 
a neat little home and he began buying; our furniture was very nice 
but not what I wanted; later we got a Ford but I wanted a Dodge. 
Gradually, I became more and more dissatisfied with the things which 
he could not give and as I look back over it now I see that I was con- 
stantly nagging about not being able to entertain, to travel, to dress, 
to "put on the show" that my friends did. 

One day my husband said to me "I love you better than I do my 
own life and from now on I am going to see if I can't give you every 
thing you want." I did not know then the real import of these words. 
About a month afterward he told me that he wanted me to have my 
own car and that he would keep the Ford. I was delighted when he 
sent out a pretty Dodge coupe all for me. I did not question how he 
got it but was satisfied that he knew what he was doing. When we 
had been married about two years he said he wanted to refurnish our 
little love nest. I was overjoyed when I saw the lovely furniture 
brought in and the old furniture carried out. Still I did not question. 
My next desire was a new home; he felt that he could not give me just 
what I wanted, so I continued to "nag." For a good while I was dis- 
satisfied wanting the home which he said he could not afford. Spats 
occurred frequently conflicts continuously. Finally he said "I'll give 
you the home you want just give me time." It was during this 
"time" that I heard that he was gambling and had been gambling 
for some time. The home was being built when I asked him if he ever 
gambled. Truthfully and frankly, he told me that my wants had been 
so many and so heavy that it was for that reason that he started it. 


I eventually had the things I wanted but since then Fve always re- 
gretted the ways the accommodation was brought about. 18 

Striving to maintain an appearance of high standards of 
consumption often leads, as in the foregoing case, to illegal 
practices. Consequently, one reads from time to time of 
Negro physicians being arrested or sent to prison for illegal 
practices or dealing in narcotics. Negro newspapers play 
up from time to time the criminal conduct of Negro business- 
men who have been apprehended in their efforts to get rich. 19 
These criminal activities are often, from what we know of 
the persons involved, the result of efforts to maintain stand- 
ards of conspicuous consumption that are out of proportion 
to the economic resources of this class. 

Naturally, much of the conspicuous consumption of the 
middle class is devoted to social life. This is due especially 
in the South to racial segregation which prevents participa- 
tion in the life of community. But, even when this fact is 
taken into consideration, the Negro middle class spends a 
relatively large amount of their time and resources on social 
life. This often appears incongruous in view of the fact that 
this class depends almost solely upon salaries or upon fees de- 
rived from the meager earnings of Negro workers. Hence, 
the surprise of a white social worker when she learned that 
her colored associate was in "society" and entertained lav- 
ishly. 20 The same ideals are apparent in the leisure-time ac- 

18 Manuscript document. 

19 When the Negro lived in a less complex world, it was naively argued by 
his educational leaders that the high criminal rate of the Negro was due to 
his lack of education. These same leaders often boasted that none of the grad- 
uates of their respective schools or colleges had been arrested or sent to 
prison. Today it would be difficult to make such claims. 

30 It should be added that this colored social worker lost her job because 
of mishandling funds and experienced considerable difficulty in escaping a 
jail sentence. 


tivities of a large proportion of the unemployed wives in the 
middle class. Since they possess on the whole only a super- 
ficial "culture," they spend very little time in reading or, 
where opportunities exist, in attending the theater, art gal- 
leries, or public lectures. Their lives revolve on the whole 
about the activities of the small social world of their class. 
Usually they belong to numerous clubs that engage in card- 
playing, eating, and gossip. In fact, the social life of the 
more conservative elements is little more than a dull routine 
of card parties. However, among the younger elements who 
still restrict their leisure to the Negro world, the dulness of 
their lives is relieved by dances and periodic alcoholic sprees. 

Homeownership is one aspect of middle-class standards of 
consumption that makes for stability in family life. Al- 
though in many cases the middle-class families spend beyond 
their means on their homes, which are often "show places," 
this is partly due to the fact that, when they seek decent 
homes, they are forced to inherit the homes of the wealthier 
white middle class. Of 1,775 college students studied by 
Caliver, 78 per cent said that their parents owned or were 
buying their homes. However, a larger percentage of middle- 
class families represented by the students owned their homes 
than the families of the lower occupational classes. Ninety- 
three per cent of the families of students whose fathers were 
in business owned their homes; 85 per cent of those in pro- 
fessional occupations; 83 per cent of those in clerical occupa- 
tions; and only 68 per cent of the unskilled. 21 As we have 
seen in the Negro community in Chicago, homeownership 
was highest 29.8 per cent in the zone where a third of 
the men were engaged in middle-class occupations. 

The property relations of the middle class embrace more 

81 Caliver, op. cit., pp. 77-78. 


than ownership of homes. This partly accounts for the fact 
that, on the whole, the economic outlook of the middle class 
is conservative. As Woodson has shown in his study, not 
only a large percentage of the lawyers but a large propor- 
tion of the physicians are engaged in business in addition to 
their professional duties. About 40 per cent of the physicians 
were connected with various kinds of business enterprises, 
in some cases their business activities being their major 
interest." The conservative attitude of the physicians is 
shown by the fact that a discussion of socialized medicine 
is strictly outlawed in some local Negro medical societies. 
Although this attitude is partly due to the influence of the 
more prosperous members of the profession, this attitude is 
shared largely by the less prosperous members who hope 
by some means to increase their incomes. Only during the 
depression, when a goodly number of the younger Negro 
physicians were forced to seek relief, did there develop 
among a relatively few members of the profession a recep- 
tive attitude toward socialized medicine. But, on the whole, 
professional men and women and the small businessmen with 
whom they are allied array themselves with the conserva- 
tive forces in the community. 23 In the South they have 
been allied with the skeleton of the Republican party organ- 
ization, and in the North they have joined with whichever of 
the older political organizations has most to offer in terms 
of concrete rewards. 34 This is especially true of the Negro 
lawyer who engages in business more frequently than the 

23 Woodson, op. cit. t pp. 104-5. 

*3 See the author's "La Bourgeoisie noire/' in Anthology of American Negro 
Literature, ed, V. F. Calverton (New York, 1929), pp. 379-88. 

*4 See Harold F. Gosnell, Negro Politicians (Chicago, 1935), passim. 


physician and utilizes his political connections as a means 
of increasing his income. 

In the South, where the Negro middle class is less differ- 
entiated, it is even more conservative, on the whole, than 
in the North. 25 This is also due to the fact that in the South 
the middle class is more isolated, and its vested interests 
are in a rather restricted field. For example, in Durham, 
North Carolina, where there is a number of comparatively 
large and old business enterprises whose leaders have ex- 
ercised considerable control in the Negro community, one 
finds an extremely conservative middle class. 26 These enter- 
prises are controlled by members of the second generation 
of families that have been connected with these institutions 
since their foundation. And the third generation has already 
begun to find employment in them. The younger genera- 
tion has taken over not only the technique but the psy- 
chology of the modern businessman. Their efforts are di- 
rected not only toward maintaining certain standards of liv- 
ing but toward expanding their businesses and invading new 
fields. They support the same theories of government and 
morality as the white middle class. Their pleasures are the 
pleasures of tired businessmen who do not know how to en- 
joy life. They are leading laymen in the churches and help 
to support schools and charities. Middle-class respectability 

25 A young Negro minister was warned by a businessman who was a 
large contributor to the church attended by the middle class in a southern 
city not to make any reference in his sermon to the fact that he had been in 
Russia and to avoid letting anyone know that he had been there. The busi- 
nessman explained to the young minister that they were capitalists and 
therefore would not tolerate any references to a country that had overthrown 

a6 See the author's "Durham: Capital of the Black Middle Class," in 
The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (New York, 1925), pp. 333-40. 


is their ideal an ideal that reflects in a large measure their 
assimilation of American standards of behavior. 27 

Although the middle class is probably on the whole the 
most race-conscious element in the Negro group, the more 
conservative elements are not eager to see the walls of 
segregation broken down unless it will improve their own 
status. Many of the conservative elements in the middle 
class are opposed to the indiscriminate admission of Ne- 
groes the less respectable workers into public places on 
equal terms with the whites. This sentiment was expressed 
by a colored newspaper editor who remarked to a white 
man that "the white people draw the line at the wrong point 
and put all of us in the same class." Moreover, behind the 
walls of racial segregation, where they enjoy a sheltered and 
relatively secure position in relation to the lower economic 
classes, they look with misgivings upon a world where they 
must compete with whites for a position in the economic 
order and struggle for status. Hence, much of their racial 
pride is bound up with their desire to monopolize the Negro 
market. They prefer the overvaluation of their achieve- 
ments and position behind the walls of segregation to a 
democratic order that would result in economic and social 
devaluation for themselves. 28 This is especially true of the 

a ? See "Concept of Imitation" in Ellsworth Paris, The Nature of Human 
Nature (New York, 1937), pp. 73-83, for an analysis of the various forms of 
behavior indiscriminately called "imitation." 

a8 Professor W. Lloyd Warner in an article entitled "American Caste and 
Class," American Journal of Sociology, XLII, 237, says that, because of the fact 
that the Negro forms a subordinate caste in the South, many of the members 
of the upper (middle) class are unstable and are always "off balance." This, 
he feels, is probably due to the fact that they "are constantly attempting to 
achieve an equilibrium which their society, except under extraordinary cir- 
cumstances, does not provide for them." It appears to the present writer 
that this is an untenable hypothesis and that a study of Negro communities 


mulatto woman who, enjoying a position in the Negro group 
far beyond her social and personal worth, views with the 
fiercest antagonism the competition of white women. 29 

Middle-class Negro families reflect in their organization 
and behavior the diverse economic and social backgrounds 
in which they are rooted. This may be seen first in the 
various patterns of relationship between husbands and 
wives. In the economically better-situated families the 
woman generally depends upon her husband's support, es- 
pecially if she comes from one of the old mulatto families in 
which it is traditional for the wife not to work. Moreover, 
this is especially true in the South, where leisure on the part 
of the woman is more or less a sign of superior social status 
among middle-class Negroes. An analysis of families in 
Charleston, Birmingham, and Nashville, taken from the fed- 
eral census for 1920, showed that in each city a larger per- 
centage of the mulatto wives than of the black wives were 
not gainfully employed. The difference between the two 
groups was small in Birmingham, where large numbers of 
Negro workers are engaged in industrial occupations. 30 We 
have seen that in the seventh zone of the Negro community 

reveals that the reverse is true. The members of the Negro upper (middle) 
class achieve on the whole "an equilibrium' * within their own society. A 
relatively few intellectuals may constantly be in conflict with caste restric- 
tions, but they are usually severely censured by the middle class. It is in 
the North where the status of the members of the middle class is not fixed 
and where they do not enjoy a privileged position behind the walls of racial 
segregation that one may find considerable instability in personality or- 

a This attitude becomes apparent wherever, as a result of greater partici- 
pation in the larger urban community, the Negro professional and white- 
collar classes have social contacts with the same classes among the whites. 

" See Table 25, Appen. B. 


in Chicago, where the middle-class families were concen- 
trated, only a third of the married women were employed 
and that a third of the employed women were engaged in the 
white-collar and professional occupations. 31 Dr. Herskovits 
found in his study of New York Negroes that the wives of 
the small businessmen, foremen, and minor officials in gov- 
ernment services, did not work. 32 However, a check of sixty- 
five families who are members of the exclusive social clubs 
in Washington, D.C., revealed that forty-nine of the wives 
were employed. It appears that middle-class wives work 
more frequently in border and northern cities where there 
are opportunities for desirable employment and that they 
are motivated by the desire to supplement their husbands' 
income in order to maintain certain standards of consump- 

Although the woman's economic role in the family de- 
termines, on the whole, her status in the family or marriage 
group, there are other factors that help to influence her 
position. In the South, especially among the conservative 
middle-class families, the economically dependent wife is, 
on the whole, subordinate to her husband who generally de- 
sires that his wife show strict regard for conventional stand- 
ards of conduct. He, himself, somewhat in the spirit of the 
southern gentleman, may enjoy considerable freedom and 
in some cases may even have outside affairs. These affairs 
are excused so long as they do not become a public scandal 
and thereby threaten the integrity of the family. He is usu- 
ally so strict a censor of his wife's conduct that he will not 
permit her to smoke; and he would consider himself a liberal 
if he permitted her to indulge in smoking in the privacy 

J 1 See Table 6, p. 307, above. 

a* Melville J. Herskovits, The American Negro (New York, 1928), p. 56. 


of their home. Such attitudes are responsible for the 
hypocrisy and the extreme emphasis upon respectability 
which one often finds in the middle class. On the other 
hand, despite her economic dependence, the wife may have 
a dominant position in the family because traditionally the 
Negro woman has played an important role in family rela- 
tions. Moreover, sometimes in the very families where the 
mulatto wife of a successful business or professional man is 
merely an object of pleasure and display, the husband may 
be a slave to her whims and extravagances. Among this 
group often the highest compliment that is paid a husband 
is that he is "her veritable slave and worships his wife." 
Then, too, in the North, where a successful black man has 
signalized his achievements by marrying a mulatto woman, 
he may be regarded as not considerate of his wife if he goes 
places with her where she otherwise might be taken for 
white. On the other hand, we may find middle-class wives 
who are economically the mainstay of their families submit- 
ting to extreme domination by their husbands. Where such 
is the case, there is usually an excess of middle-class women 
who are willing to pay this price in order to have a husband 
who belongs to the professional or business class. 

Because of the fact that a large proportion of the middle 
class are salaried persons and there are few or no children 
in the families, relations between husband and wife, espe- 
cially where both are employed, tend to be equalitarian, 
and a spirit of comradeship exists. This tendency is growing 
as occupational differentiation increases and the various oc- 
cupational groups develop their own patterns of behavior 
and thus free themselves from standards set by the few 
wealthier members of the middle class. On the other hand, 
there is a fringe on the middle class generally childless 


couples whose behavior approaches a bohemian mode of 
life. Husband and wife, both of whom are employed, not 
only enjoy the same freedom in their outside associations 
and activities but, because of their so-called * 'sophistica- 
tion, " indulge in outside sexual relations. Although these 
people usually boast of their emancipation from traditional 
morality, it often appears that their actions are not based 
upon deep convictions. Their behavior is doubtless due to 
imitation and suggestion that play such an important role 
in the world of the city. 33 

Available figures on the size of middle-class families indi- 
cate that there are relatively few children in these families. 
However, when the 1910 census figures on children born and 
living in families in Charleston, Nashville, and Birmingham 
were analyzed according to occupational classes, there were 
no significant differences between the various occupations. 
It is probable that at that time the fundamental economic 
and cultural differences in the Negro population coincided 
more nearly with the color divisions in the Negro popula- 
tion, and variations in the number of children were more a 
matter of survival than of voluntary restriction of families 
on the part of the upper or mulatto class. For example, it 
was found that, although mulattoes had only a slightly 
smaller proportion of families with no children born than 
blacks and both groups had the same average number of 
children born, a larger percentage of the black families in 
Charleston and Birmingham had lost one or more children 
than mulatto families. Since the blacks had lost on the av- 

" When companionate marriage began to be widely discussed, an an- 
nouncement by a Negro physician that he had formed such a union was 
published together with a large picture of the physician on the front page of 
one of the leading Negro newspapers. 


erage one more child than the mulatto families in Nash- 
ville, where the same proportion of families in both groups 
had lost children, there was in Nashville as well as in the 
two other cities a larger number of children on the average 
in mulatto families than in black families. 34 On the other 
hand, twenty years ago, when Professor Kelly Miller made 
a study of the families of fifty-five colored faculty members 
at Howard University, he found that, whereas they came 
from families averaging 6.3 children, they themselves had 
on the average only 1.6 children. 35 Practically the same av- 
erage was found in 1933 for seventeen colored faculty mem- 
bers at Fisk University, where the average was 1.5 children 
per family. 36 A comparison of the number of children in the 
families from which 327 persons listed in Who's Who in 
Colored America: 1928-1929 came, with the number of chil- 
dren of 174 of those who were forty-five years of age and 
over, showed that the entire group came from families aver- 
aging 5.5 children, whereas the 174 families had only 2.3 
children per family. 37 In the spring of 1937 the writer made 

See Table 26, Appen. B. See also the author's "Children in Black and 
Mulatto Families," American Journal of Sociology, XXXIX, 12-29. 

w "Eugenics and the Negro Race," Scientific Monthly, V, 57-59. 

3* See the author's "The Negro and Birth Control," Birth Control Review, 
XVII, 68-69. 

* Ibid. These facts concerning the size of middle-class Negro families 
have received additional support in a recent study based upon National 
Health Survey data for married women of childbearing age. It was found 
that those "reporting college attendance were characterized by birth rates 
well below the level of those for women who did not report entrance into 
college." Moreover, an analysis of birth-rates at the various income levels 
showed that the birth-rates for colored wives with an income of $2,000 and 
over were considerably lower than those of wives in the three lower income 
classes (Clyde V. Kiser, "Birth Rates and Socio-economic Attributes in 
1935," Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, XVII [April, 1939], 128-51). 


a study of the colored faculty members at Howard Uni- 
versity similar to that made by Professor Miller. The 114 
teachers replying to a questionnaire came from families av- 
eraging 5.1 children; whereas they themselves had on the 
average only 0.8 child. If we consider only those teachers 
who had been married ten years or more, the average was 
i.i children per family. It is important to point out that 
about 60 per cent of those replying indicated that they had 
voluntarily restricted the size of their families. 

In Woodson's study of the Negro professional man, he 
found that 85 per cent of the physicians were married and 
that 87.9 per cent of those married had had children. Of 
those having had children, only 31.9 per cent had children 
living. About a fourth of those with children living had one 
child; 22.6 per cent, two children; 10 per cent, three; 6.7 
per cent, four; and 1.8 per cent, five. 38 About five-sixths of 
the lawyers reported themselves as married, and 54.7 per 
cent of those married reported that they had children living. 
Of those with children, 17.2 per cent had one child; 19.2 
per cent, two children; 11.4 per cent, three; 3.6 per cent, 
four; and 0.5 per cent, five children. 39 In the sixty-five fami- 
lies referred to above as members of the Washington colored 
61ite, it was found that in thirty-six of the sixty-five families, 
there were no children and that there was a total of only 
forty-three children, or less than 0.7 of a child per family. 
Fourteen of the twenty-nine families with children had two 
children each and the remaining fifteen families one child 
each. Although some of these families were probably not 

* 8 Woodson, op. cit.j p. 116. 

* Ibid ., pp. 248-49. One and one-tenth per cent of both the physicians 
and the lawyers had six children. 


completed families, the couples had all been married eight 
years or more. 

When one considers the treatment of children in middle- 
class families, the observation made by Park a quarter of a 
century ago that "where the children are few, they are usu- 
ally spoiled" holds today. 40 This is especially true of the 
comparatively well-to-do families in which the indulgence 
of the children's whims and extravagances is tied up with 
their desire for conspicuous consumption. It is not uncom- 
mon to find college students from middle-class families 
boasting of their parents' fine homes and expensive cars 
and vying with one another in expending money on clothes 
and other forms of conspicuous consumption. In fact, many 
of the middle-class Negro families send their sons and espe- 
cially their daughters to certain Negro colleges where they 
feel that their children will have contacts with the sons and 
daughters of middle-class families and enjoy the so-called 
"cultural" environment of these colleges. Although it is also 
true that some middle-class families who desire that their 
children have contacts with whites send their children to the 
more exclusive white schools, other families, realizing that 
their children must live largely in the Negro world, send 
them to the Negro colleges that have middle-class traditions. 

In fact, since education is the chief means by which the 
Negro escapes from the masses into the middle class, it is 
not surprising that the colleges uphold middle-class tradi- 
tions. Of course, this is not the only reason, since privately 
supported colleges draw their incomes from the philanthropy 
of wealthy whites. But the very atmosphere of Negro col- 

< Robert E. Park, "Negro Home Life and Standards of Living," in The 
Negro's Progress in Fifty Years (Philadelphia: American Academy of Politi- 
cal and Social Science, 1913), p. 163. 


leges breathes the spirit and aspirations of the Negro middle 
class. In the very college where the middle-class aspirations 
were formulated and published abroad in 1898, there has 
been established a chair with the specific aim of training 
business leaders for a segregated Negro economy. It is hoped 
by this means to foster the spirit of business enterprise and 
overcome the handicap which Negro college men and women 
experience in being excluded from apprenticeship in white 
business establishments. However, middle-class ideals are 
inculcated in more subtle ways. For example, Negro colleges 
give little attention to plays dealing with Negro folk life 
but place much emphasis upon plays which appeal to 
middle-class whites and provide fashion shows from time 
to time in which middle-class standards of consumption are 
held up for emulation. So deeply are middle-class attitudes 
ingrained in Negro college students that some of these future 
members of the brown middle class regretted that the Scotts- 
boro boys were poor and black and expressed the opinion 
that the predicament in which the Scottsboro boys found 
themselves could not possibly be the fate of "cultured" 

The vast majority of Negro college students, those from 
the lower occupational classes as well as those from middle- 
class homes, aspire to enter middle-class occupations. 41 
Studies of the vocational choices of Negro college students 
indicate that the majority of them plan to enter the teach- 

x In a recent study of 7,083 Negro college graduates from private and 
state colleges, it was found that three-fourths of the college graduates had 
entered the professions. In the same study it was also found that, in a 
sample of 5,216 college graduates, 41 per cent had entered the teaching pro- 
fession (see Charles S. Johnson, "The Negro College Graduate: How and 
Where He Is Employed," Journal of Negro Education, IV, 7-8). 


ing profession. 42 In the vocational choices of Negro college 
students and the occupations which they enter, one can de- 
tect the cause of the "softness" of the Negro middle class. 
In the middle-class atmosphere of the Negro college, the 
students coming from working-class homes lose their stam- 
ina and often prefer any kind of charity that will enable 
them to ape the middle-class students to making their way 
through toil. The boys from middle-class families are often 
as spoiled as their sisters. When they reach college, they 
regard educational discipline chiefly as a means of prepar- 
ing themselves for such salaried positions as teaching or 
social work where in either case their incomes may be de- 
rived from the community or philanthropy. Thus, because 
of their family background and education, they are un- 
fitted for life in a world of competition. In fact, it generally 
turns out that they are more or less excluded from the com- 
petition of the world at large. Hence, their "softness" and 
sentimental outlook on life reflects the security which they 
find in occupations the incomes of which come from the 
state or philanthropy. 

The future of the Negro middle class will depend, of 
course, upon the role of this class in American economic life. 
There are no grounds for the belief that this class will find 

< 3 A study of the vocational interests of the Freshmen at Lincoln Uni- 
versity of Missouri indicated that 58.3 per cent of the men were planning to 
enter teaching and medicine and that 86.7 per cent of the women were 
planning to enter teaching and social work (James C. McMorries, "The 
Interests of Freshmen at Lincoln University," Journal of Negro Education, 
VI, 54). In the study of the vocational choices of Negro college students in 
North Carolina it was found that 21.4 per cent of the men and 54.1 per cent 
of the women wanted to be teachers. Seventeen and a half per cent of the 
men wanted to be physicians (Charles L. Cooper, "The Vocational Choices 
of Negro College Students in North Carolina," Journal of Negro Education, 
VI, 62-63). 


a secure economic base in a segregated economy with its 
Negro captains of industry, managers, technical assistants, 
and white-collar workers. 43 However, it seems that this 
class will increase mainly through the entrance of Negroes 
in white-collar occupations, especially wherever the number 
of such occupations is increased by an extension of munici- 
pal or state functions, and the Negro is permitted to com- 
pete on equal terms with whites. In fact, the Negro middle 
class is increasing in the very northern cities where Negroes 
are permitted through political power to compete with other 
races for positions under state control. Hence, the Negro 
middle class is becoming almost entirely a class of profession- 
al and white-collar workers. As racial barriers break down, 
the Negro middle class will become assimilated with the 
salaried workers in the community. Consequently, they will 
cease to think of themselves as a privileged and "wealthy" 
upper Negro class and will regard themselves as other in- 
tellectual workers. Their standards of consumption and the 
character of their family life will reflect these changes in 
status and outlook on life. The democracy which is appar- 
ent in the relations of a growing number of married men 
and women who earn their living will become the rule in 
this group of workers. 

Cf. Harris, op. cit., chap, iv on the plight of the Negro middle class. 


When the brown middle class was becoming articulate 
during the last decade of the past century, there were wide- 
spread misgivings concerning the future of the black worker 
in American economic life. In fact, the Negro leaders who 
proposed the development of a segregated Negro economy 
justified their program partly on the assumption that Negro 
enterprises would secure the employment of black workers. 1 
In the South, where at the close of the Civil War a hundred 
thousand black mechanics outnumbered white mechanics 
five to one, by 1890 Negro artisans had as a result of white 
competition and trade-union exclusion lost their once secure 
position in southern industry. 2 In the North the black work- 
er was confined to domestic and personal service, and his 
appearance in industry from time to time was generally in 
the role of a strike-breaker. 3 It was not until the World War 
that the black worker secured a footing in the industries 
of the North. 

For the entire period from 1890 to 1920 the proportion of 
black workers in the crafts remained practically constant in 
the South. However, in the North, where the Negro popula- 
tion had increased during the war, the black worker had by 
1920 made significant gains in industry. In securing a foot- 

1 See statement by the late President John Hope at Atlanta in 1898 cited 
in Abram L. Harris, The Negro as Capitalist (Philadelphia, 1936), p. 51. 

a Sterling D. Spero and Abram L. Harris, The Black Worker (New York, 
i93i), PP- 32-33 and 159-60. 

* Ibid.j pp. 129-32. 



hold in northern industry, the Negro worker not only had 
to meet the prejudice of white workers and to overcome the 
employers' preconceptions concerning his efficiency but he 
also had to adapt himself to the discipline of modern indus- 
try. His success in overcoming the preconceptions of the 
employers was due to the fact that they found in the black 
industrial reserve a reliable labor supply. According to the 
general testimony of employers, the workers have gradually 
adjusted themselves to the discipline of modern industry. 4 
Even in the South, where caste sentiment restricts the com- 
petition and the mixing of black and white workers, eco- 
nomic forces inevitably tend to throw workers of the two 
races into competition. 

We have already seen to what extent occupational differ- 
entiation had progressed by 1920 in fifteen cities. 5 We shall 
consider briefly the changes which have taken place be- 
tween 1920 and 1930 in the four occupational classes, which 
form the black proletariat of these cities (see Diagrams IV 
and V). Taking first the laborers, who constitute from a 
fifth in Boston to over a half in Baltimore and Cincinnati of 
the employed male Negro population, we find that their 
numbers declined relatively in all but three cities. 6 In the 
latter three cities Cincinnati, Houston, and Memphis 
there were only slight increases in the proportion of laborers 
in the working population, these increases ranging from one- 
tenth of i per cent to 1.7 per cent. On the other hand, there 
was a decline in the proportion of laborers amounting to 7 

* Ibid., pp. 163-66. s See pp. 415-19, above. 

6 See Table 52, Appen. B. In considering these figures, one should take 
into account the fact that the percentage of Negro males gainfully employed 
in these cities declined 3-9 per cent. This was doubtless due to the depres- 
sion which had set in during 1929. 


per cent in Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle and 9 per cent in 
Birmingham. Apparently, the decline in the proportion of 
laborers was not related to the decline in total proportion 
of employed males. For example, we find that in Birming- 
ham the proportion of gainfully employed males declined 
only 2.7 per cent. 

Changes in the percentages of semiskilled workers in the 
employed male population showed the same tendency. In 
twelve of the fifteen cities there were decreases in the pro- 
portion of semiskilled workers, amounting in one city to as 
much as 10.7 per cent. On the whole, the decline in the 
proportion of semiskilled workers was greater in the six 
southern cities than in the six northern cities. Birmingham 
was the only southern city with an increase in semiskilled 
workers, this increase being only 1.2 per cent. On the other 
hand, the six southern cities appeared more favorable in re- 
spect to increases in the proportion in skilled occupations. 
In all the six southern cities there were increases in the 
proportion of skilled workers ranging from 1.7 per cent in 
Richmond to 5.1 per cent in Houston. However, the largest 
increase in the proportion of skilled workers occurred in 
New York City. Of the three border cities Cincinnati, Bal- 
timore, and Washington 'the latter two cities showed in- 
creases of 2.7 and 3 per cent, respectively, in the proportion 
of skilled workers. 

We come, finally, to domestic service which has long been 
the occupation upon which black workers have largely de- 
pended for a living. In all the fifteen cities except New York, 
where there was a slight decline, the proportion of domestic 
workers showed some increase. In Boston and Chicago this 
increase was less than i per cent, but in the southern cities 
it ranged from about 2 to nearly 6 per cent. From the figures 


for the fifteen cities, it appears that the most significant 
changes in the occupational distribution of the black work- 
ers have been a decrease in the proportion of semiskilled 
workers and the laborers and a corresponding increase in 
the proportion in domestic service and, to a lesser extent, 
in skilled occupations. Thus, it does not seem unreasonable 
to conclude that, whereas black workers have been forced 
to fall back to some extent into domestic service, they have 
been able to secure a slightly firmer hold in skilled occupa- 
tions. Among the southern cities, Houston indicated defi- 
nite gains in skilled occupations; in Birmingham the skilled 
and semiskilled absorbed the decline in laborers; while in 
New Orleans the increase in the proportion in skilled occupa- 
tions and domestic service equaled the decline in semiskilled 
workers and laborers. In Chicago the decline in the propor- 
tion of laborers was partly compensated for by increases in 
skilled and semiskilled workers, while in New York City 
the increase in skilled workers more than compensated for 
the decrease in laborers. In both of these cities there was 
practically no change in the proportion of workers in do- 
mestic service. 

From the standpoint of general culture, patterns of be- 
havior, and outlook on life, Negro workers in domestic and 
personal service are by no means a homogeneous group. In 
the past, many of the old established families of free ancestry 
as well as the cruder elements from the plantation depended 
upon this type of employment. A large section of the present 
middle class has its roots in this same class of workers. Both 
during slavery and after emancipation it was through do- 
mestic and personal service that the Negro was brought 
into intimate contacts with the white race and was thereby 
able to take over elements of white civilization. Of course, 


such contacts often resulted in crude and bizarre imitations 
of white culture; but, where Negroes were employed over 
long periods, sometimes several generations, in the white 
families of culture, they unconsciously assimilated white 
ideals and standards of behavior. Moreover, when within 
their own families and within their more or less exclusive 
community life these ideals and patterns of behavior be- 
came a part of their traditions, they were supported by 
sentiment and acquired significance in their lives. However, 
the elements in the Negro population with such a back- 
ground have rapidly risen, especially through education, into 
the middle class. Other elements in the Negro population 
have taken their places. In fact, each successive wave of mi- 
grants from the farms and plantations of the South brings 
workers seeking employment in domestic and personal serv- 
ice into the urban environment. 

Consequently, one finds in domestic and personal service 
today Negroes with a solid background of civilized behavior 
and a high degree of intelligence as well as the illiterate and 
crude field hand with a plantation background. Usually the 
cruder and less efficient workers have been employed at a 
dollar or two a week by the poorer whites in the South. 
On the other hand, the more competent and more civilized 
reflect the discipline and influence of their contacts with the 
cultured whites. In a study of domestic workers in Washing- 
ton, D.C., it was found that 30 per cent of the female appli- 
cants for domestic service had seventh- or eighth-grade edu- 
cation. 7 There were also among the 9,976 applicants for the 
academic years 1920-22, 17 male and 159 female students 
who had attended high school; 75 female normal-school stu- 

7 Elizabeth R. Haynes, "Negroes in Domestic Service in the United 
States/' Journal of Negro History, VIII, 400-401. 


dents; 13 male and 126 female college students. 8 However, 
it appears that, as a rule, Negroes who have obtained a 
high-school education do not enter domestic service but use 
it as a means of completing their education. 9 The older 
workers in domestic and personal service who have some 
background of culture and stable family life are often identi- 
fied with the institutions supported by the middle class. 
For example, in Nashville, among 32 male members of a 
small Congregational church attended mainly by persons of 
middle-class status, there were 3 members engaged in do- 
mestic service. 10 These families undertake to maintain 
middle-class standards and endeavor to fit their children for 
middle-class occupations. Caliver found in his study of 1,877 
Negro college students that 191, or 10 per cent, came from 
families in which the fathers were engaged in domestic and 
personal service." But the vast majority of the more stable 
domestic workers with the cultural background of the Negro 
folk attend institutions and live on a plane more suited to 
their small earnings. 

On the other hand, the less stable elements lead an exist- 
ence in which the faults of the gentleman and the peasant 
find expression. They are improvident, and their behavior 
is governed by imitation and suggestion. Since many of 
them see white people only during their leisure, their be- 
havior often shows the influence of the "sporting complex/' 
Thus, the less stable as well as the better-situated workers 
in domestic and personal service seldom have a real working- 

8 Ibid., p. 403. 9 Ibid., p. 400. 

10 In this church, twenty-one of the thirty-two male members were of the 
professional class; four in business; and three in public service. 

" Ambrose Caliver, A Background Stiidy of Negro College Students (Wash- 
ington, 1933), p. 68. 


class consciousness. It has only been in northern cities where 
their relations with their employers have been more imper- 
sonal that they have been disposed to identify themselves 
with industrial workers. 

Although a large proportion of the black semiskilled 
workers and laborers come from the same rural background 
as the domestic workers, they are, on the whole, cruder than 
the domestic worker. But, on the other hand, the more 
stable and especially the organized unskilled workers are 
more likely to think of themselves as workers and are less 
disposed to imitate the behavior of middle-class whites. Es- 
pecially is this true of the great body of black longshoremen 
who have had a long history of unionism and have exhibited 
considerable working-class solidarity. 12 Likewise, among 
miners and steel and stockyards workers, the development 
of working-class consciousness has been influenced by their 
experiences in industrial struggles, including, of course, co- 
operation with white workers. But certain influences in the 
Negro community itself tend to perpetuate, even among in- 
dustrial workers, a middle-class outlook. For example, in the 
churches and schools, Negro leaders often hold up to black 
workers middle-class ideals and conceptions of life and thus 
influence to some extent their allegiance to the working class 
and their valuations. 

The difference in outlook between many Negro workers 
in domestic and personal service and the black artisan or 
industrial worker whose conceptions of life and behavior 
have been fashioned by working-class traditions is shown 
in the following document: 

" Spero and Harris, op. cit. t pp 182-205. We have classified longshore- 
men with the laborers although at one time some aspects of their work re- 
quired considerable skill. 


At that time, father had become the outstanding stone mason and 

bricklayer of the town, surpassing even Bill S [white] from whom 

he "stole" his trade. On excursions father would take us to the houses 
he was building and to the bridges that were in process of construction 
and my youngest sister and I would be awestruck with the wonder of 
it all. Dad would allow us to climb in and about the houses and he 
would show us how to mix mortar, handle the trowels, etc. I remember 
how he used to love his tools and when folks would come to the house 
to borrow them, we wouldn't let anyone have them. 

So it was very early that we acquired a deep and abiding respect 
for the people of the working class because we were and are part and 
parcel of them. We were taught early by both our parents to respect 
personality as it showed itself through constructive labor. The men 
who worked for Dad, the mechanics as well as the laborers, we thought 
of as constructive forces in the community. It was probably because 
of these ideas that we regarded with pride all the male members of the 

The standard set by the Negro leaders in the community was, we 
thought, false. The inclination was to set on a pinnacle the Negroes 
who were of the professional class. There weren't many, very few in 
fact, and probably because of this rarity was there much abject wor- 
ship. You see, father and my uncles were all rated throughout as 
expert workmen and mother, who had learned the trade of hairdresser 
(that is the manufacture of hair ornaments), had enjoyed the reputa- 
tion of the best worker in the finest shop in Pittsburgh, in her time. 
That was before her marriage. Everything my father and mother did 
helped to confirm our judgment that the people of the professional 
class were only a different kind of skilled worker and respect for them 
and their opinion came to being only in so far as they were masters of 
their trade. 

Because our family on mother's side of the household was very 
well known and respected, our relationship with the elite of the white 
group was casual and usual. But, although we were often in the homes 
of the most wealthy, mother took care that our house while com- 
fortably furnished, was in keeping with our economic status. It was 
simply but tastefully furnished. This was quite different from the 
standards prevailing among our Negro friends, who thought we were 


queer because we didn't imitate the houses of the wealthy in point of 
view of appointments. They also thought we were queer because we 
dressed in ginghams and percales and wore flat but well made shoes 

and lisle stockings. I thought the G girls [wealthy white girls] 

very beautifully dressed, but there never was any envy in this admira- 
tion for mother had always taught us that the important thing was 
to "dress within our means" and to look "clean" and "tidy." Even 
our Sunday clothes were simple and very often I have had to say when 
I was twitted about my simple clothes, "Well, anyway my father is 
an expert mechanic and yours is nothing but a servant for white 
people," or "I am sure I look as well in my ginghams as you look in 
satin." These statements always ended the arguments. 

We did have a piano and a very good one because mother thought 
that there should be entertainment in the house and she believed in 
the cultural influences of music. While many colored people had big 
houses, expensively furnished, we were the only "colored" children 
who belonged to the private library. There was no public one and 
mother had to pay for cards. We always had three cards, one for each 
two of us. As to politics, I can remember only that father thought a 
man was a good candidate if he sympathized with the aims and as- 
pirations of the working class group. I remember him voting against 

j f or mayor because he owned the H Coal Mine and didn't 

allow the union to enter and forced the employees to buy at the com- 
pany store. Discussions outside of the house between father and his 
friends, who were mainly white mechanics, we listened to and I be- 
lieve my interest in the proletariat was generated in these early years. 

We have often laughed at what mother called the "antics" of 

the J 's. They had recently become wealthy and I suppose their 

emulation, inaccurate as it was, of the old wealthy group reminded 
us of the same sort of thing among the Negro working class. Their 
striving, we thought ridiculous and somehow we always knew when 

Mrs. J was "trying to get in" with the D 's [the elite] or 

changing her house furnishings to look like theirs. We always knew, 

too, that Mrs. S , the Negro barber's wife, was dressing well to 

look like A D , and was buying curtains "exactly like the 

G 's." Our home, although distinctive, was much like that of 

father's friends. We had books and magazines, and games like the 


W 's and the atmosphere of the home in no way bespoke emulation 

of the wealthy. 13 

Although this document is representative of only a com- 
paratively small group of skilled black workers, it is indica- 
tive of the process by which this class is attaining working- 
class ideals and traditions. 

Before considering the family life of the black worker, let 
us pause to see how he is housed. In southern cities one can 
easily recognize the areas inhabited by the black working 
class. For example, in Lynchburg, Virginia, it was found 
that 60 per cent of the Negro families lived on dirt streets 
and 78 per cent on streets with dirt sidewalks. 14 As to the 
living conditions in the unsubstantial and weather-beaten 
frame houses on these streets, we can get some idea from 
the fact that 63 per cent of the families lived in homes that 
were not more than half-heated. 15 Although the median 
number of rooms per colored family was three, the median 
number of bedrooms was two. Consequently, it is not sur- 
prising that, in a fourth of the families, bedrooms were 
also used for living-rooms, and in about 45 per cent of the 
families these rooms served the double function of bedroom 
and laundry. In only about a fifth of the families were the 
bedrooms used exclusively for sleeping. 16 

The housing of the black worker in the city is, of course, 
tied up with his general economic and cultural status. This 
becomes apparent when one studies the residence of black 
workers in relation to the organization of the Negro com- 
munity. For example, in Chicago it was found that, in the 

x * Manuscript document. See Doc. XI, Appen, A. 

* Benjamin Guy Childs, The Negroes of Lynchburg, Virginia ("Publica- 
tions of the University of Virginia" [Charlottesville, Va., 1923]), pp. 39-40. 
Ibid., p. 43. l6 Ibid., p. 42. 


deteriorated section of Negro community where the mi- 
grants from the South settled, 56 per cent of the employed 
males were common laborers; 12.4 per cent, semiskilled 
workers; and 17.7 per cent, in domestic service. 17 In the 
report on the Negro following the race riots of 1919, the 
description of the houses in this area was given as follows: 

With the exception of two or three the houses are frame, and paint 
with them is a dim reminiscence. There is one rather modern seven- 
room flat building of stone front, the flats renting at $22.50 a month 
and offering the best in the way of accommodations to be found there. 
There is another makeshift flat building situated above a saloon and 
pool hall, consisting of six six-room flats, renting at $12 per month, 
but in a very poor condition of repair. Toilets and baths were found 
to be in no condition for use and the plumbing in such a state as to 
constantly menace health. Practically all of the houses have been so 
reconstructed as to serve as flats, accommodating two and some- 
times three families. As a rule there are four, five and sometimes six 
rooms in each flat, there being but five instances when there were more 
than six. It is often the case that of these rooms not all can be used 
because of dampness, leaking roofs, or defective toilets overhead. 18 

In the next zone, where the houses were slightly better, 
there was an increase in the proportion of skilled workers in 
the working population. In fact, the proportion of common 
laborers declined regularly in the successive zones which 
marked the expansion of the Negro population and on the 

17 E. Franklin Frazier, ' 'Occupational Classes among Negroes in Cities," 
American Journal of Sociology, XXXV, 729. 

18 Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago (Chica- 
go, 1922), pp. 185-86. In a study of 2,326 apartments in Harlem it was 
found that 465, or 20 per cent, were "cold-water" flats with stove heat 
(Ira DeA. Reid, "Twenty-four Hundred Negro Families in Harlem" [New 
York: New York Urban League, 1927] [unpublished manuscript]). About 
93 per cent of the males in this study were employed in personal and domestic 
service and as skilled and unskilled laborers in manufacturing and mechanical 


whole increasing improvement in housing facilities. In the 
seventh zone, which was primarily a middle-class area, only 
a seventh of the workers were laborers. This was the same 
as the proportion of skilled workers in the population of 
this area. 

But, despite the selection which fixes the abode of black 
workers in the Negro community on the basis of the eco- 
nomic and social status, their homes even in better areas are 
usually unsuited to their incomes and unfavorable to normal 
family life. When black workers seek better living-quarters, 
they are compelled to occupy houses or apartments that 
were built for middle-class white families, and, because of 
the competition for housing quarters within the Negro com- 
munity, they are forced to pay higher rentals than the form- 
er white occupants. 19 That such is the case has been shown 
in a number of studies. For example, Reid found in a study 
of 2,326 Negro families in Harlem that in some cases the 
rentals charged Negro tenants when they moved into apart- 
ments vacated by whites amounted to almost a 100 per cent 
increase over what the whites had paid. 20 As a result, 48 
per cent of the Negro tenants were paying more than 40 
per cent of their monthly earnings in rentals. These findings 
were similar to the findings in a study of West Harlem, 
where Negro tenants paid nearly a third of their income as 
compared with approximately a fifth of the tenants' income 
for the whole city. The typical annual income for this sec- 
tion was $1,300, of which $480 went for rent. 21 

* There is considerable mobility among the working population. For ex- 
ample, Reid found that 40 per cent of the families which he studied had 
occupied their apartments less than one year; 27 per cent, only a year. 

30 Op. cit. 

Carey Batchelor, What the Tenement Family Has and What It Pays for 
It: A Study of 1,014 Tenement Families, Showing Income, Rent and Housing 
Conditions (New York: United Neighborhood Clubs, 1928). 


In order to pay these exorbitant rents, the black worker 
is generally forced to take in roomers. Reid found 3,314 
lodgers in the 2,326 apartments which he studied." A study 
of 100 migrant families in Philadelphia, almost all of whom 
were workers, showed that 24 of the families supplemented 
their incomes by rentals from lodgers. 23 In a more compre- 
hensive study, including every tenth 1920 federal census 
family in Chicago, Miss Graham found that, out of 3,339 
families, 2,361 possibly had some additional source of in- 
come. 24 Of these 2,361 families, 824 were keeping roomers, 
294 had relatives employed, and 1,611 were sharing their 
homes. As many as 350 of these families secured incomes 
from at least two of these sources. 

In the organization and life of the black worker's family, 
one can see the influence of these various economic and 
social forces. Already we have seen to what extent workers' 
families in cities are dependent solely upon the mother for 
support. 25 Negro families that are broken through desertion 
are not only almost entirely working-class families but seem- 
ingly come more frequently from the unskilled and common 
laborers. For example, during the fiscal year 1930-31, out 
of 129 desertion cases handled by the Charity Organization 
Society in which the occupation of the husband was given, 
45, including n chauffeurs, were in domestic service and 
another 45 were employed in unskilled labor. However, 
various studies indicate that in a large percentage of the 

" Op. cit. 

a 3 Sadie Tanner Mossell, "The Standard of Living among One Hundred 
Negro Migrant Families in Philadelphia," Annals, XCVIII, 182. 

a * Irene J. Graham, "Family Support and Dependency among Chicago 
Negroes: A Study of Unpublished Census Data," Social Service Review, III, 

a See pp. 326-28, above. 


families in which the husband is present the women must 
also assist in the support of the family. Only 33 of the 100 
migrant families in Philadelphia, referred to above, de- 
pended solely upon the father's earnings. 26 In 52 of these 
families the mother contributed to the family income. Reid 
found in his study of 2,326 families in Harlem that 53.5 
per cent of the wives were employed and that less than 10 
per cent of the employed women added more than twenty 
dollars per month to the family income. 27 Miss Graham 
found in her study of Negro families in Chicago that 1,500, 
or 51.6 per cent, of the 2,904 women heads of families with 
husbands were employed. 28 Some of the workers' wives who 
are forced to supplement the earnings of their husbands are 
engaged in their homes at such work as making lamp shades 
or artificial flowers. For example, let us take 

the wife of a steel worker .... his wife reported that he had been 
working irregularly since the preceding September, making about $50 
a month. The family, consisting of husband, wife, and a schoolboy 
of sixteen, lived in a six-room apartment over a store for which they 
paid a monthly rent of $75. Sometimes they sublet one room; and 
when they could secure more roomers, they sublet a second room. 
The wife was earning $15 to $23 a week making parts of artificial 
flowers. She was working about sixty hours a week in the home on 
these flowers, and in addition making a commission on work she 
allowed one of the roomers to do. She had been doing this kind of 
work for three years and said it was "getting on her nerves," but she 
could not stop on account of the irregularity of her husband's em- 
ployment. 29 

a6 See Mossell, op. cit., p. 182. Since there were some professional families 
among the migrants, it is likely that they were included among the thirty- 
three families depending solely upon the husband's earnings. 

*7 Op. cit. * 8 Op. cit., p. 546. 

2 > Myra Hill Colson, "Negro Home Workers in Chicago," Social Service 
Review, II, 407. 


It appears from a study of the employment of married 
Negro women in seventy-five northern and southern cities 
of 100,000 total population or more that the employment 
of the wives of black workers is dependent upon the extent 
to which Negro men find employment in industry. By com- 
paring the percentage of Negro married women employed 
with the proportion of Negro males employed in manufac- 
turing and mechanical industries, it was found that the pro- 
portion of married women employed tended to decline as 
the proportion of Negro males employed in industry in- 
creased. 30 

The status of the husband and wife in the black worker's 
family assumes roughly three patterns. Naturally, among 
the relatively large percentage of families with women 
heads, the woman occupies a dominant position. 31 But, be- 
cause of the traditional role of the black wife as a contributor 
to the support of the family, she continues to occupy a 
position of authority and is not completely subordinate to 
masculine authority even in those families where the man is 
present. As indicated above, the entrance of the black 
worker in industry where he has earned comparatively good 
wages has enabled the black worker's wife to remain at 
home. Therefore, the authority of the father in the family 
has been strengthened, and the wife has lost some of her 
authority in family matters. In fact, among some classes of 
black workers whose wives are restricted to the home, mas- 
culine authority is harsh or even brutal. Wives as well as 
children are completely subject to the will of the male head. 
However, especially in southern cities, one may find that the 

3 The coefficient of correlation was 0.67 (see Table 31 and scatter 
diagram, Appen. B). 

3 1 See pp. 326-28, above. 


black worker's authority in his family may be challenged 
by his mother-in-law. In the following document, written 
by a woman who worked her way through college, one can 
get an idea of the conflict which often arises when the hus- 
band opposes his authority to the traditional authority of 
the wife's mother in the family. This document also throws 
light on the conflict which even may be found in workers' 
families between the mulattoes and the Negroes of unmixed 

My mother and father were in high school when they became in- 
fatuated with each other and ran away. Before they had a chance to 
marry, my grandmother located my mother, and both my grandfather 
and grandmother persuaded her against marrying him. My grand- 
father argued that he had no profession other than wanting to be a 
preacher. He prophesied that he would never be a good preacher and 
never would have anything. My grandmother argued that he didn't 
have anything, never would have anything, that nothing was known 
of his family and beside that, he was a black man. Mama would not 
listen to any of this. She said that she would run away from any 
school to which they sent her if they would not permit her to get 

My grandmother and father gave her a very expensive church 
wedding in the same church in S. where we are now members. My 
grandfather would not be present at the reception or the wedding. 
My mother married my father and went to southern Louisiana to his 
home. There she found that he was not from the ideal family as she 
had pictured him being at school. There she found out there were 
many things about his family of which he never spoke. Mama found 
that his family did not have the status in the community that hers 
had in S.; for her father was known as Professor W., her mother was 
active in community life, church work, clubs, etc. Besides her family 
was considered one of the old blue blood families of S. and Mama was 
considered then as one of the most beautiful girls in S. This grieved 
her very much but as she had gone against the will of her parents she 
made the best of it. Papa went about his career as an ("unprepared") 
minister. My mother could never get him to see that pastoring small 


churches with small pay didn't mean anything. She could not get 
him to see that if he would complete his trade as a carpenter rather 
than trying to be a minister he would have more economic stability. 
Mama often quotes papa as saying, "I know my business; I'm my 
own boss; I know the Lord has called me to preach." He continued 
to be sent from one small Methodist church to another. 

Of the four girls the other three have perfectly straight and curly 
hair. Mine is not. I was often referred to as being a duplicate of my 
father's hair and my mother's figure. My mother is fair, black hair 
with Jewish facial features. My father is black with typical Negro 
features. (After I went to live with my aunt), she constantly re- 
minded me that I was the daughter of a trifling black man who cared 
nothing for his children. She gave me everything nice in the line of 
clothes, toys, and education, but I resented her speaking of my father 
as she did. I resolved firmly then that I would always love my father. 
I realized however, that I was dependent and accepted my lot. Finally, 
one day I told my aunt that the things she did for me were very nice, 
but I would like to go to work for myself. Deeply in my mind I re- 
sented her doing these things for me and at moments when she was 
angry she would remind me how dependent I was and would say the 
most cutting things about my father. She would also say that I was 
just his image including hair and color. She would not consent for 
me to go to work. 

As my mother did not send me back to my aunt and my sister 
was well, the three of us decided that something had to be done. We 
decided that we would rent a house and live independently. The sister 
next to myself was old enough to go to school and the baby sister 
was placed in kindergarten. My older sister and I decided to work 
before and after school while my mother continued to work as ticket 
agent at a downtown theatre on the colored entrance. During this 
time my father was still carrying on his career as a preacher in the 
southern part of Louisiana. We had lost all hopes of his ever coming 
to us and being a real father. One day when I came home from high 
school where I was a freshman, I found my father sitting on the porch. 
I hardly knew him for I had not seen him since I was seven years of 
age and I was then fourteen years of age. 

My grandmother was very discourteous to him, but he ignored it 
all. When mama came from work the same afternoon she too was 


surprised to see him. The two younger sisters did not know him at all. 
My older sister did not express her feeling toward him, one way or the 
other. Mama immediately told him of her plan to move away from 
her mother and live alone. He then told his plan. He had saved 
enough money to start buying a home. He said that he had laid 
preaching aside and was going to live permanently in S. if she wanted 
to, or, if she did not want to live with him, he would take the children 
with him. Mama decided that it would be better that both mother 
and father have us. She stopped her mother from meddling in our 
family affairs. 

My father has about completed paying for his home now in S. 
Mama does not work at all. Both the younger sisters are in school. 
One is now in the eighth grade and the older sister in the sixth. My 
oldest sister has been married but her husband is now dead. She has 
her own home which was given to her by her husband's people. She 
has two children five and seven years of age. She is a graduate of the 
high school in S. Her highest ambition is to educate her children and 
help me educate our two younger sisters as well as help me to look 
after mama and papa when they become unable to look after them- 

As my father was so late in settling down in life, his responsibili- 
ties were too heavy for him to do anything toward giving me a college 
education, although it was his greatest desire that I have one. From 
the time that I lived with my aunt until the present time I have 
realized what it means to be dependent. As I have already been 
thrown on my own resources at an early date, I did not dread working 
my way through college. I have observed that my father did not take 
advice nor prepare for the future as he should have done, but, I am at- 
tempting to profit by his mistake. At the present time my home is 
on a fairly normal basis. Both mama and papa are active in their 
churches. Papa is now lumber foreman at a lumber mill in S. Our 
status in the community is that of ordinary church-going people. 
Among the older families and best circles my sister and I are spoken 
of as Mrs. X 's [grandmother] granddaughters. & 

The following excerpts from the history of a laborer's 
family, furnished by his son, shows the important role of the 

* a Manuscript document. See chap, viii above. 


wife even in those worker's families where the father is the 
acknowledged head and has a fundamental interest in his 

At the time of my parents' marriage, my father was only a laborer 
in the town and he never advanced beyond this stage. My mother was 
a cook and washwoman. My father had left his father's farm as soon 
as he reached manhood; my mother had left the farm at the age of 17. 
I do not know the circumstances under which my parents first met. 
A little more than a year after their marriage their first child, a son, 
was born. On December 20, 1901, the first daughter and second child 
made her appearance. In 1904, March 2, our brother joined, and in 
1907 a second daughter was born. Five years later, the fifth and last 
child was born, but she lived only three days. 

From 1899 to 1914, my parents lived in the same three room house 
about three blocks from the railway station in a town of about 1,500 
people. In 1912 my mother who was the more thrifty, and the business 
manager of the family, bought four lots in a new section of the town 
in which the new school for Negroes was to be built. She employed a 
Negro contractor to draw a plan for a house of 5 rooms and a hall. 
When this was done, mother bought the lumber. At our request my 
brother and I were employed by the contractor to work for him in 
the construction of the building. During our employment the con- 
tractor taught us much about carpentry. After the construction of the 
house had been completed my brother and I, realizing that a well 
had to be dug, requested Mother to allow us to dig as much of it as 
we could. This she permitted. For our labor she gave us (together) 
50ff a foot. We dug until we struck water, and then the job was turned 
over to a professional well-digger, who finished it. 

In 1914, we moved into the new house, where my parents lived 
until their deaths in 1927. For 22 years, 1899 to 1921, my father 
worked regularly as a laborer for two families, a physician's and a 
mercuant's. His weekly wages from the two families ranged from 
$6.00 to $10.00. For about the same time my mother cooked out and 
took in washing, receiving for her labor from $3.00 to $10.00 per 
week. As soon as we children became old enough we (boys as well as 
girls) did as much of the washing and ironing as we could. The train- 
ing I gained enabled me to spend 7$ years in boarding school and spend 


only $3.65 for laundry during that time. At the age of ten I was 
hired out to a family to be the companion and guardian at play of 
their three little sons. For 4 years, before and after school hours, and 
in the summer I worked for this family, receiving $1.75 plus meals per 
week. From April, 1914, to October, 1915, I was cook at the local 
hotel. From that time until August, 1916, I worked on the farm of a 
white man, receiving per month $13.00 and the mid-day meals. The 
other children were never hired out, except to pick cotton. 

As soon as each child reached 10 years of age he was allowed to 
keep a portion of what he earned during each week. As he grew older 
and his earnings increased, the percentage he received increased. Each 
child deposited his savings in his own name in the local bank. By 
August, 1916, 1 had saved $69.00, and had bought enough clothes to 
last me the school term of 1916-17, my first year in boarding school. 
Mother taught us how to plan our spending, how to make choices 
when our money was scarce, and the value of keeping on hand what 
she called an "emergency sum." 

Although mother did most of the planning for the family, my 
father's task was to buy the food and fuel, look after the chickens, 
garden and potato patch, keep up the premises, and provide medical 
care. It was mother's duty to look after the children's clothes, pay 
the taxes and insurance, buy the furniture and other household arti- 
cles, and look after the schooling of the children. Although there was 
this general division of responsibility, there was mutual interest in 
each other's tasks and cooperation in meeting obligations when neces- 
sary and expedient. In the home each child had specific duties, but 
all of us were taught to cook, sew, quilt, mend clothes, wash and iron, 
and buy a week's supply of groceries. 

My father was a very quick-tempered man, so he left most of the 
disciplining of the children to mother. Frequently, mother would 
gather us about her and talk to us, advise us how to get along in the 
world, and urge us above everything else to be fair to our fellowmen, 
and respect their rights. A kindly woman, gentle and sympathetic, 
my mother hated a quarrel and never, to my knowledge, engaged in 
vulgar gossip in the presence of her children. She was an advocate 
of patience and tolerance, and often said, "It is better for you to 
suffer unjustly than to cause another to suffer; rather than wrong 
another, run the risk of being wronged. "a 3 

33 Manuscript document. 


Contrary to popular opinion, there are, on the whole, rela- 
tively few children in the families of black workers, though, 
as we have seen, the number varies according to residence. 34 
In the 100 migrant families studied in Philadelphia, there 
were only 1.73 children on the average to the family and in 
over a fourth of the families there were no children. 35 This 
was practically the same as the average for the 1,576 fami- 
lies in Harlem, in which there was an average of 1.8 children 
per family. 36 In 268 of these Harlem families there were no 
children; and in 448, only one child. In the study of every 
tenth census family in Chicago there was on the average 
only one child per family. 37 However, 60 per cent of the 
2,930 married male heads of families had no dependent chil- 
dren; 29.9 per cent had one or two children; 5.2 per cent, 
three children; and only 149, or 5.1 per cent, more than 
three children. 38 These findings are similar to the author's 
which showed that there were actually slightly more chil- 
dren under fifteen years of age to women of childbearing age 
in the seventh zone, where middle-class families were con- 

34 See pp. 318-22, above. 

35 Mossell, op. tit., p. 184, and Table III on p. 190, on number of persons 
per family. Likewise a recent survey of 1,500 Negro families in Indianapolis, 
the vast majority of which were of working-class status, revealed that a 
fourth of the families consisted of only the husband and his wife (Cleo W. 
Blackburn, "A Study of Fifteen Hundred Negro Families in Indianapolis" 
[unpublished manuscript], 1938). 

* 6 Reid, op. cit. ^ Graham, op. cit., p. 549. 

38 Ibid., pp. 543-44. Riser's recent analysis of the National Health Sur- 
vey data on married women revealed that birth-rates among skilled and semi- 
skilled Negro urban workers were considerably lower than those of whites 
of the same occupational class and that birth-rates for the Negro laboring 
classes were only slightly higher than those for Negroes in the professional 
and business classes (Clyde V. Kiser, "Birth Rates and Socio-economic At- 
tributes in 1935," Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, XVII [April, 1939], 


centrated, than in the first and second zones, occupied 
chiefly by workers' families of southern origin. 39 

The treatment of children in workers' families is influ- 
enced by both economic and social factors. For example, 
the neglect of children among this class results in part from 
the fact that a large proportion of the mothers are employed. 
According to reports from 374 working mothers in Harlem, 
129 left their children with relatives or friends; 56 left their 
children to take care of themselves; 41 left their children 
at home; and 80 instructed their children to remain around 
the school or in the streets or to go to the library. 40 In the 
Chicago sample, 23.2 per cent of the women in families with 
children under fourteen years of age were employed outside 
the home. But, since some of these families were parts of 
composite households, it is probable that a third of the chil- 
dren had the supervision of a woman during the absence of 
the mother. 41 Of course, the neglect of children is not due 
entirely to economic causes. Among the less stable and more 
primitive workers, the ill-treatment accorded children re- 
sults from the disorganization of the Negro in the city. 
But, even among some of the poorest families, the mother's 
whole affectional life may be centered upon a son or daugh- 
ter. In fact, her attitude often presents a striking contrast 
to that of the father. 42 But the children of the workers are 

3 See p. 319, above. < Reid, op. cit. 

** Graham, op. cit. t pp. 558-60. 

* In a study by the White House Conference on Child Health and Pro- 
tection it was found that practically the same percentage of urban Negro 
children 63.5 per cent as compared with 64.5 percent as rural Negro chil- 
dren stated that they liked their mother best. The percentage showing such 
preference was highest in the Negro group; the German children stood next 
with 42.2 per cent (see The Adolescent in the Family [New York, 1934], 
Table 32, Appen. I). 


seldom as spoiled as the children in middle-class families. In 
fact, it is in those well-organized workers' families where the 
entire family is working in order to purchase a home or that 
their children may obtain an education that one finds a 
spirit of democracy in family relations and a spirit of self- 
reliance on the part of the children. In the following docu- 
ment, written by the daughter of a mechanic, one can get 
a good picture of the character of the stable family among 
the better-situated skilled workers: 

My Mother and my Father began their married life in Savannah, 
Ga., in 1910. They lived with my Grandfather and Father's four 
sisters in the big house. Mother did not get along with the sisters 
as they attempted to look down on her in many ways. She caused 
Father to start buying a small house of their own, and they moved 
into it. Grandfather was good to Mother and during those early days 
of her married liL, she learned to care for him. Later when Grandfather 
came to S [a northern city], Mother was able to return his kind- 
ness because he lived with us a year. Mother and her sister-in-laws 
made a bad start which was almost impossible to correct. 

Mother found many things which tended to put their marriage on 
the rocks at the start. Her personality and traditions were so different 
from Father's. She was a quiet, home loving person with no desires for 
dances, parties, and good times. But Father was just the opposite in 
those days, he loved to dance, go to all night parties and run with the 
fast crowd. He was bored staying home after working hours. Mother 
used to tear his shirts off of him to keep him home, but he still went. 
Even after they wer~ married a year he continued to find more pleas- 
ure outside the home. I was a baby then. Mother often told how she 
used to walk the floor many nights with me, while Father was out with 
his crowd. When she was about to give up and go home to her folks, 
a great crisis came in Father's life which changed everything for the 

It was on an Easter morning when Father was converted and was 
baptized in the Baptist church. He swore then, never to go back to 
worldly things such as dances, cards, and fast life. He vowed to be a 
different man, and from that day he was changed. He became a mem- 


ber of B. E. Church, and began to find new friends and associates. 
Grandfather said his attitude towards his work in the blacksmith 
shop was even different. Although Mother was Methodist she joined 
Father's church for she was determined to make their marriage a 

Then the war came and Father did not want to be sent over to 
fight so he decided to move away. Then too the blacksmith business 
was slowly dying. There was a chance to make money up North, so 
Father planned to move. When he left, Grandfather gave up his shop 
and stayed home because he had enough to live off the rest of his 

life. Father moved to S [a northern city] and found work there. 

He sent for Mother and me. I was only four but I can remember that 
trip perfectly. We all lived with some friends of Father's for a while, 
but it was expensive living with them. We rented a small house in a 
down town section of the city where the Negroes lived. We lived there 
for five years. Father worked hard and saved his money. Mother 
made all of my clothes for school because I started school my second 

year in S . It used to be very cold there then, and Mother being 

fresh from the South, thought I would freeze to death, so she used 
to pile me up with clothes. However, I was never sick a day during 
those days. 

Our family lived down in the Negro section of S , until Father 

had the house in Savannah paid for, then we moved up on "the hill," 
where the better class Negroes lived. Mother and Father joined the 
small Baptist Church on "the hill," and I went to Sunday School 
there. By moving up into this new district, I had a better chance in 
school because there were not half as many Italians and Jews in the 
new school. There were also fewer colored children and the teachers 
were far nicer. Father worked hard to keep the family up economi- 
cally, and Mother did her share in the home to keep things balanced. 
My family did very little socializing. They went to church socials 
and parties where the church minister was always present. They never 
went to dances or card parties, and in fact, Father never bothered 
about those things after his conversion, and Mother had never cared 
for them. There was complete oneness between Mother and Father 
then, just as it is today. When I was a senior in Junior High my 
brother was born, A.B.C., 3rd. I will never forget how ashamed I 
was to have a baby brother at that age. A baby spoiled our home for 


me because Mother could never go anywhere, and we used to be 
such pals. 

A great crisis came to our family in 1926 when Father lost his job 
as a mechanic which he had with a packing company. He had been 

with that firm since he first moved to S . He looked everywhere 

for work and found none so he decided to go to New York City, and 
look about. He found work there so he lived with one of his sisters, 

and sent us money to keep up our expenses in S . We were still 

renting a house and Mother managed to pay the rent and live off what 
Father sent so that we did not have to touch our bank account. Then 
one night Father was taken desperately ill, so much so that my aunt 
had him sent to the hospital that very night. He was so ill that the 
doctors thought he could not tell what was the matter with him. 
They thought he had gotten drunk and was sick from it, but when 
my aunt said he never touched liquors they became more serious over 
his condition. The next morning the hospital doctors called for spe- 
cialists from all the leading hospitals in the city of New York. They 
examined and made x-ray pictures of Father and concluded that he 
had gastric-ulcers, and would die before the day was out unless he was 
operated on. He was too sick to care, but he asked them to telegraph 
Mother and have her come at once, and then to operate on him. 
Father said he gave up everything, and asked God to guide the doc- 
tors. We came to New York as soon as possible. I will never forget 
how bad my father looked when I saw him in that high white bed 
propped up on stilts. Mother and I prayed with Father and then left 
the hospital. We went to the hospital day and night until he was 

pronounced out of danger. Then I returned to S , and left Mother 

and little C. in New York. 

One week after I arrived home I received word that the family 
would be home. I never can forget how happy I was to hear that 
Father was well again, and would be home. We lived one year off 
of our savings account until Father was good and well. Mother went 
out to work two days a week to help keep up the expenses of the 
home. During all that time we never missed the payment of the rent 
and there was always plenty of food. We did not buy many clothes 
and I made over things for Mother and myself. We could always 
buy things for my little brother at a small price. So we didn't suffer. 
Father got employment at the S.F.I. Company as a porter, after he 


was pronounced by the family physician as in good health. Mother 
gave up her days work and stayed home. She kept very busy planning 
and learning to cook as the doctors said Father's food should be 
cooked. She had always cooked as southerners do and it was hard for 
her to learn to cook over again. I was taking cooking in high school 
then so it was easy for me to help her. I taught her all I knew, and 
then we studied how to neutralize acids, as Father could never have 
acid foods again. Those were busy, happy days when we were being 
restored to normal conditions again. 

After Father had been on the new job a year we started buy- 
ing our home. We bought a two family house with plenty of front 
lawn, and room for a garden in back. There was a good barn in back 
of the house which could be transformed into a garage. The house 
was just across the street from where we used to live. Father in- 
stantly began to remodel the house, and Mother and I did all we 
could to help him. He papered, put in new plumbing, and put in the 
electricity himself. Then he had experts in these fields come and ex- 
amine his work. In that way it cost us only the price of the fixtures 
because Father did this in his spare time. Mother and I washed all 
the windows, woodwork, and floors. I was a senior in High School, 
but I was not too proud to help my mother. In fact we were so anxious 
to have our own home that we all worked to the end of our strength 
to have it. After the house was cleaned and ready for us, we moved 
all the light articles of furniture and clothing over in my brother's 
wagon. Then Father had a truck move the heavy things. We had to 
buy a few more pieces of furniture to make our new home in good 
living condition. 

Then the big thing before us was the getting of the house paid for. 
The second floor brought in a large rent which Father paid on the 
house, he paid his rent on the house also. I got a job after school 
so as to buy my own clothes, and then to save money for college too. 
I worked on Saturday mornings and saved the money by weekly pay- 
ments on a Christmas club savings account. For four summers I had 
a job as a cook and made quite a large sum of money during the vaca- 
tion. Father changed the barn into a two car garage and rented both 
of them out, because then we could not afford a car. During all this 
hard struggle we never failed to attend church on Sunday, and Father 
even went to Prayer meeting as he was a deacon. I was a Sunday 


School teacher and went to both Sunday School and morning church. 
The entire family went to church on the first Sunday night service so 
as to take our communion. We always had Sunday clothes even if our 
neighbors did wonder how we managed. 

I graduated from High School the second year we had the house. 
Father didn't see how he could send me to college with the house to 
be paid for, but since I had saved five hundred dollars for college he 
would send me. The year I started in college my little brother started 
in first grade. Father paid my train fare to college and my savings 
account paid my first quarter's expenses. The next quarter I made 
my tuition by working, and my family paid my room and board in 
the dormitory. Father managed my bank account so that it paid my 
room and board for two years while I was in college. He paid my 
train expenses and bought my clothes and I worked for my tuition. 
At first I wrote my family twice a week and sent telegrams often. 
Then later, I wrote once a week 

The only time Father and I clashed over ideas was when I started 
to dance, and wanted to attend dances. Mother and I tried to show 
him that there was no harm in dancing, but he insisted that Christians 
should not dance or attend them. I dance and play cards even if my 
father objects. It makes me happy to know that my family has paid 
for our home, and that they are now able to enjoy life after the hard 
struggle which they have put forth to have a few of the necessary 

In many of the workers' families, the parents, especially 
the mother, make tremendous sacrifices to give their chil- 
dren an education. A college student, whose father was a 
stationary fireman, wrote as follows of the sacrifices which 
were made for her education: 

Both my parents did their part in their efforts to give me an educa- 
tion. However, most of the sacrifices were made by my mother when 
I needed things. Dad was more of an outside show than an execu- 
tioner. He did a lot of talk about what he was doing but at the root 
of all his doing was mother's influence.** 

Manuscript document. * Manuscript document. 


One can get some idea of the extent of these sacrifices by 
considering some facts brought out in a study by the Com- 
mittee on Scholarships and Student Aid at Howard Uni- 
versity in 1931. This study revealed that, during the aca- 
demic year 1929-30, students from families supported by 
domestic and personal service and skilled and unskilled oc- 
cupations received on the average $290.36 and $379.93, re- 
spectively, and that Freshmen entering in 1930 from both 
of these occupational classes expected on the average over 
$500 from their parents. Yet the average income of the per- 
sons in domestic and personal service was only $1,000 and 
that of the parents in skilled and unskilled labor $1,200. 
Ordinarily, these children of the workers would have looked 
forward with certainty to entering middle-class occupations, 
which would have afforded a relatively comfortable and se- 
cure position in the Negro community. However, the de- 
pression has not only made impossible such sacrifices on the 
part of their parents but has made the sons and daughters 
in workers' families more conscious of the insecurity of the 
Negro middle class and their dependence upon the workers. 
The condition of the black worker is determined by the 
same forces in our economic system which affect the life of 
the white worker. In the last section we have seen the ex- 
tent to which the depression has made the black worker 
dependent upon relief in the city. 45 Some measure of the 
decline in the incomes of black workers is afforded by a study 
of 2,061 households in a section of Harlem in New York 
City. 46 It was found that the incomes of skilled workers 
suffered the greatest proportionate decrease, their median 

<s See pp. 332-34, above. 

* 6 Clyde V. Kiser, "Diminishing Family Income in Harlem/' Opportunity, 
XIII, 173-74- 


income declining from $1,955 * n X 9 2 9 t $ I >3> r 4^-7 per 
cent. The decline in the income of semiskilled and unskilled 
workers whose median incomes in 1929 were $1,941 and 
$1,599, respectively, amounted to 43 per cent. The decline 
in the black worker's earning power and unemployment 
have done more than years of agitation to make him con- 
scious of his position as a worker. In his struggle for ade- 
quate relief and a living wage, the black worker is co-operat- 
ing more and more with the white worker and consequently 
regards his problems less as racial problems. 

Thus one of the main results of the urbanization of the 
Negro population in recent years has been the emergence 
of a black industrial proletariat. Though many urban Negro 
workers must still seek a living in domestic and personal 
services, the number of skilled as well as semiskilled workers 
and laborers is growing. These industrial workers are ac- 
quiring a new outlook on life and are dominated less by the 
ideals and standards of the brown middle class or workers 
in domestic and personal services. It appears that, as the 
Negro worker becomes an industrial worker, he assumes re- 
sponsibility for the support of his family and acquires a new 
authority in family relations. Moreover, as the isolation of 
the black worker is gradually broken down, his ideals and 
patterns of family life approximate those of the great body 
of industrial workers. 



Our account of the development of the Negro family in 
the United States traverses scarcely more than a century 
and a half of history. Yet, during that comparatively brief 
period, from the standpoint of human history, the Negro, 
stripped of the relatively simple preliterate culture in which 
he was nurtured, has created a folk culture and has grad- 
ually taken over the more sophisticated American culture. 
Although only three-quarters of a century has elapsed since 
the arrival of the last representative of preliterate African 
races, the type of culture from which he came was as unlike 
the culture of the civilized American Negro today as the 
culture of the Germans of Tacitus' day was unlike the cul- 
ture of German- Americans. 

Thus our first task has been to discover the process where- 
by his raw sexual impulses were brought under control not 
only through the discipline of the master race but also by 
association with his fellows. Next, we have undertaken to 
study the character of the restraints upon sex and family 
behavior which have evolved as a part of the Negro's folk 
culture. Our final task has been to analyze the process by 
which a favored few have escaped from the isolation of the 
black folk and gradually taken over the attitudes and senti- 
ments as well as the external aspects of the culture of the 
dominant race. 

When the Negro slave was introduced into American 
economic life, he was to all intents and purposes, to use the 
words of Aristotle, merely an "animate tool." But, as in 



all cases where slavery exists, the fact that the slave was 
not only animate but human affected his relations with his 
masters. To the slave-trader, who had only an economic 
interest in the slave, the Negro was a mere utility. But, 
where master and slave had to live together and carry on 
some form of co-operation, the human nature of the slave 
had to be taken into account. Consequently, slavery de- 
veloped into a social as well as an economic institution. The 
lives of the white master class became intertwined with the 
lives of the black slaves. Social control was not simply a 
matter of force and coercion but depended upon a system 
of etiquette based upon sentiments of superordination, on 
the one hand, and sentiments of submission and loyalty, 
on the other. Thus the humanization of the slave as well 
as his assimilation of the ideals, meanings, and social defini- 
tions of the master race depended upon the nature of his 
contacts with the master race. Where the slave was intro- 
duced into the household of the master, the process of assimi- 
lation was facilitated; but, where his contacts with whites 
were limited to the poor white overseer, his behavior was 
likely to remain impulsive and subject only to external 

Yet, social interaction within the more or less isolated 
world of the slave did much to mold his personality. Al- 
though in some cases the slaves retained the conception of 
themselves which they had acquired in their own culture, 
their children were only slightly influenced by these fading 
memories. Consequently, their personalities reflected, on 
the whole, the role which they acquired in the plantation 
economy. Individual differences asserted themselves and in- 
fluenced the responses of their fellow-slaves as well as their 
own behavior. The large and strong of body and those of 


nimble minds outstripped the weak and slow-witted. Some 
recognition was shown these varying talents and aptitudes 
by the slaves as well as by the masters. Within the world of 
the slave, social distinctions appeared and were appreciated. 

When the sexual taboos and restraints imposed by their 
original culture were lost, the behavior of the slaves in this 
regard was subject at first only to the control of the masters 
and the wishes of those selected for mates. Hence, on the 
large plantations, where the slaves were treated almost en- 
tirely as instruments of production and brute force was re- 
lied upon as the chief means of control, sexual relations were 
likely to be dissociated on the whole from human sentiments 
and feelings. Then, too, the constant buying and selling of 
slaves prevented the development of strong emotional ties 
between the mates. But, where slavery became a settled 
way of life, the slaves were likely to show preferences in 
sexual unions, and opportunity was afforded for the develop- 
ment of strong attachments. The permanence of these at- 
tachments was conditioned by the exigencies of the planta- 
tion system and the various types of social control within 
the world of the plantation. 

Within this world the slave mother held a strategic posi- 
tion and played a dominant role in the family groupings. 
The tie between the mother and her younger children had 
to be respected not only because of the dependence of the 
child upon her for survival but often because of her fierce 
attachment to her brood. Some of the mothers undoubt- 
edly were cold and indifferent to their offspring, but this 
appears to have been due to the attitude which the mother 
developed toward the unborn child during pregnancy as 
well as the burden of child care. On the whole, the slave 
family developed as a natural organization, based upon the 


spontaneous feelings of affection and natural sympathies 
which resulted from the association of the family members 
in the same household. Although the emotional interde- 
pendence between the mother and her children generally 
caused her to have a more permanent interest in the family 
than the father, there were fathers who developed an attach- 
ment for their wives and children. 

But the Negro slave mother, as she is known through 
tradition at least, is represented as the protectress of the 
children of the master race. Thus tradition has symbolized 
in the relation of the black foster-parent and the white child 
the fundamental paradox in the slave system maximum 
intimacy existing in conjunction with the most rigid caste 
system. Cohabitation of the men of the master race with 
women of the slave race occurred on every level and became 
so extensive that it nullified to some extent the monogamous 
mores. The class of mixed-bloods who were thus created 
formed the most important channel by which the ideals, 
customs, and mores of the whites were mediated to the 
servile race. Whether these mixed-bloods were taken into 
the master's house as servants, or given separate establish- 
ments, or educated by their white forebears, they were so 
situated as to assimilate the culture of the whites. Although 
a large number of this class were poor and degraded, fairly 
well-off communities of mixed-bloods who had assimilated 
the attitudes and culture of the whites to a high degree de- 
veloped in various parts of the country. It was among this 
class that family traditions became firmly established be- 
fore the Civil War. 

Emancipation destroyed the modus vivendi which had be- 
come established between the two races during slavery. Al- 
though the freedmen were able to move about and thereby 


multiply the external contacts with the white man's world, 
many of the intimate and sympathetic ties between the two 
races were severed. As a result, Negroes began to build their 
own institutions and to acquire the civilization of the whites 
through the formal process of imitation and education. 
Then, too, despite their high hopes that their freedom would 
rest upon a secure foundation of landownership, the masses 
of illiterate and propertyless Negroes were forced to become 
croppers and tenants under a modified plantation system. 
In their relative isolation they developed a folk culture with 
its peculiar social organization and social evaluations. With- 
in the world of the black folk, social relations have de- 
veloped out of intimate and sympathetic contacts. Con- 
sequently, the maternal-family organization, a heritage from 
slavery, has continued on a fairly large scale. But the ma- 
ternal-family organization has also been tied up with the 
widespread illegitimacy which one still finds in these rural 
communities. Illegitimacy among these folk is generally a 
harmless affair, since it does not disrupt the family organiza- 
tion and involves no violation of the mores. Although formal 
education has done something in the way of dispelling ig- 
norance and superstition, it has effected little change in the 
mores and customs of these folk communities. 

The stability and the character of the social organization 
of the rural communities has depended upon the fortunes 
of southern agriculture. Up until the opening of the present 
century, the more ambitious and energetic of the former 
slaves and their descendants have managed to get some edu- 
cation and buy homes. This has usually given the father or 
husband an interest in his family and has established his 
authority. Usually such families sprang from the more 
stable, intelligent, and reliable elements in the slave popula- 


tion. The emergence of this class of families from the mass 
of the Negro population has created small nuclei of stable 
families with conventional standards of sexual morality all 
over the South. Although culturally these families may be 
distinguished from those of free ancestry, they have inter- 
married from time to time with the latter families. These 
families represented the highest development of Negro fam- 
ily life up to the opening of the present century. 

However, the urbanization of the Negro population since 
1900 has brought the most momentous change in the family 
life of the Negro since emancipation. This movement, which 
has carried a million Negroes to southern cities alone, has 
torn the Negro loose from his cultural moorings. Thousands 
of these migrants have been solitary men and women who 
have led a more or less lawless sex life during their wander- 
ings. But many more illiterate or semi-illiterate and impov- 
erished Negro families, broken or held together only by the 
fragile bonds of sympathy and habit, have sought a dwelling- 
place in the slums of southern cities. Because of the dissolu- 
tion of the rural folkways and mores, the children in these 
families have helped to swell the ranks of juvenile delin- 
quents. Likewise, the bonds of sympathy and community 
of interests that held their parents together in the rural en- 
vironment have been unable to withstand the disintegrating 
forces in the city. Illegitimacy, which was a more or less 
harmless affair in the country, has become a serious eco- 
nomic and social problem. At times students of social prob- 
lems have seen in these various aspects of family disorgani- 
zation a portent of the Negro's destruction. 

During and following the World War, the urbanization of 
the Negro population was accelerated and acquired even 
greater significance than earlier migrations to cities. The 


Negro was carried beyond the small southern cities and 
plunged into the midst of modern industrial centers in the 
North. Except for the war period, when there was a great 
demand for his labor, the migration of the Negro to northern 
cities has forced him into a much more rigorous type of 
competition with whites than he has ever faced. Because of 
his rural background and ignorance, he has entered modern 
industry as a part of the great army of unskilled workers. 
Like the immigrant groups that have preceded him, he has 
been forced to live in the slum areas of northern cities. In 
vain social workers and others have constantly held con- 
ferences on the housing conditions of Negroes, but they have 
been forced finally to face the fundamental fact of the 
Negro's poverty. Likewise, social and welfare agencies have 
been unable to stem the tide of family disorganization that 
has followed as a natural consequence of the impact of mod- 
ern civilization upon the folkways and mores of a simple 
peasant folk. Even Negro families with traditions of stable 
family life have not been unaffected by the social and eco- 
nomic forces in urban communities. Family traditions and 
social distinctions that had meaning and significance in the 
relatively simple and stable southern communities have lost 
their meaning in the new world of the modern city. 

One of the most important consequences of the urbaniza- 
tion of the Negro has been the rapid occupational differ- 
entiation of the population. A Negro middle class has come 
into existence as the result of new opportunities and greater 
freedom as well as the new demands of the awakened Negro 
communities for all kinds of services. This change in the 
structure of Negro life has been rapid and has not had time 
to solidify. The old established families, generally of mulat- 
to origin, have looked with contempt upon the new middle 


class which has come into prominence as the result of suc- 
cessful competition in the new environment. With some 
truth on their side, they have complained that these new- 
comers lack the culture, stability in family life, and purity 
of morals which characterized their own class when it graced 
the social pyramid. In fact, there has not been sufficient 
time for these new strata to form definite patterns of family 
life. Consequently, there is much confusion and conflict in 
ideals and aims and patterns of behavior which have been 
taken over as the result of the various types of suggestion 
and imitation in the urban environment. 

The most significant element in the new social structure 
of Negro life is the black industrial proletariat that has been 
emerging since the Negro was introduced into Western civili- 
zation. Its position in industry in the North was insecure 
and of small consequence until, with the cessation of foreign 
immigration during the World War, it became a permanent 
part of the industrial proletariat. This development has 
affected tremendously the whole outlook on life and the 
values of the masses of Negroes. Heretofore, the Negro was 
chiefly a worker in domestic and personal services, and his 
ideals of family and other aspects of life were a crude imita- 
tion of the middle-class standards which he saw. Very often 
in the hotel or club he saw the white man during his leisure 
and recreation and therefore acquired leisure-class ideals 
which have probably been responsible for the "sporting 
complex" and the thriftlessness which are widespread among 
Negroes. But thousands of Negroes are becoming accus- 
tomed to the discipline of modern industry and are develop- 
ing habits of consumption consonant with their new role. 
As the Negro has become an industrial worker and received 


adequate compensation, the father has become the chief 
breadwinner and assumed a responsible place in his family. 

When one views in retrospect the waste of human life, 
the immorality, delinquency, desertions, and broken homes 
which have been involved in the development of Negro 
family life in the United States, they appear to have been 
the inevitable consequences of the attempt of a preliterate 
people, stripped of their cultural heritage, to adjust them- 
selves to civilization. The very fact that the Negro has suc- 
ceeded in adopting habits of living that have enabled him 
to survive in a civilization based upon laissez faire and com- 
petition, itself bespeaks a degree of success in taking on the 
folkways and mores of the master race. That the Negro 
has found within the patterns of the white man's culture a 
purpose in life and a significance for his strivings which have 
involved sacrifices for his children and the curbing of indi- 
vidual desires and impulses indicates that he has become 
assimilated to a new mode of life. 

However, when one undertakes to envisage the probable 
course of development of the Negro family in the future, it 
appears that the travail of civilization is not yet ended. 
First it appears that the family which evolved within the 
isolated world of the Negro folk will become increasingly 
disorganized. Modern means of communication will break 
down the isolation of the world of black folk, and, as long as 
the bankrupt system of southern agriculture exists, Negro 
families will continue to seek a living in the towns and cities 
of the country. They will crowd the slum areas of southern 
cities or make their way to northern cities where their family 
life will become disrupted and their poverty will force them 
to depend upon charity. Those families that possess some 
heritage of family traditions and education will resist the 



destructive forces of urban life more successfully than the 
illiterate Negro folk. In either case their family life will 
adapt itself to the secular and rational organization of urban 
life. Undoubtedly, there will be a limitation of offspring; 
and men and women who associate in marriage will use it 
as a means for individual development. 

The process of assimilation and acculturation in a highly 
mobile and urbanized society will proceed on a different 
basis from that in the past. There are evidences at present 
that in the urban environment, where caste prescriptions 
lose their force, Negroes and whites in the same occupational 
classes are being drawn into closer association than in the 
past. Such associations, to be sure, are facilitating the as- 
similation of only the more formal aspects of white civiliza- 
tion; but there are signs that intermarriage in the future will 
bring about a fundamental type of assimilation. But, in the 
final analysis, the process of assimilation and acculturation 
will be limited by the extent to which the Negro becomes 
integrated into the economic organization and participates 
in the life of the community. The gains in civilization which 
result from participation in the white world will in the 
future as in the past be transmitted to future generations 
through the family. 





My mother was 76 years old at death and has been dead about 15 
years. She lived on the farm and raised six boys and one girl. She 
was the mother of ten children; some children died at a young age, 
not over ten years nor under one year. My mother was not married 
till she was about 60 years old, when she married a very high standing 
citizen. A white man of good family and a good citizen was the father 
of mother's children. She owned a little piece of land that was given 
her by a colored man who was the father of the oldest child. My 
father provided a good large farm. One part was hers through his 
efforts and working the children. He had one farm and house joining 
our field and he with our help worked both farms. What was made on 
her farm went to her and what was made on his went to him. She 
raised her own hogs and cattle, and he did likewise. She handled the 
money she made and he made too. You see there was no banks and 

mother kept the money made by both. When Mr. K lent money, 

he made the mortgages to himself and got the money from her. When 
he died he had about $18,000 worth of mortgages which he gave to 
my oldest brother on Sunday morning. He was sick and died Tuesday 
evening. These mortgages were not indorsed but he gave them to him 
in the presence of witnesses. The administrator had a suit to try to 
get them but lost out. We got his mortgages and his land which was 
about two farms. He left no will, therefore the farm went to his 
people. Mother bought his farm which joined our farm. He would 
come to our house every morning and every night. He would eat there 
sometimes. He would tell us what to do each day. Ma called him 

Mr. K and we called him Mr. K . He did most of the buying 

in the home. Ma went for a general shopping about once a year. He 
arranged for us to have gifts and things as any father would do. I 
stayed with him mostly till he died. I would stay at nights and sleep 



with him. One of his widowed sisters lived with him. After his death 
I would stay with his sister as long as she stayed there. I thought she 
could cook the best food I ever ate. She was good to all of us and 
would give us some of anything she had to eat. He died in November. 
The crop was about housed except some cotton to pick, but his sister 
picked it. When he died his brother qualified as administrator. My 

father and a good white man named J N owned a cotton gin 

and a molasses factory together. This man would not let my father's 
brother qualify as administrator over these two things. He did that 
himself and he paid us for the work we had done up at these places 
that summer and fall. He said he knew my father's brother would not 
let us have it. My father's brother tried to get everything from us but 
he failed. My father had things so fixed that he couldn't get it. The 
funeral was in his house. We went right on as we had always been 
going. Mother did not go. We went to the grave but mother did not. 

My father sent us to school as other parents did their children. The 
schools at that time were very poor. He died in 1882. He was 56 years 
old when he died. I learned to love him just like I loved my mother. 
He was good to me and I have no fault to find. He would let me go 
about with him and give me cakes and candy. He would tell me to 

tell people my name was J W , Mr. K . I loved to say 

that because people would laugh. This was generally to whites as they 
were his associates. He was never married. He took my mother to 
live as they did, I think when he was about 30 years old. Ma must 
have been just about 20, not over 22 years old. They lived peacefully 
and worked hard. Mother worked in the fields and at the house too. 
My father was Deputy Sheriff. He was Tax Collector for years and 
years. He would collect tax during the day and when he'd come home 
at night he'd let me count it. When I'd count it correct he'd give me 
some money for being smart. He was a church man. Mother went 
to church too. When we were small she didn't go much. The property 
he left us was mostly in notes or mortgages amounting to $18,000. 
Mother had money that she had made farming. I don't know how 
much she had. He would always bring his money and leave it with 
her except his pocket change. She had his too but I don't know how 
much that was. 

Postscript. Besides the seven children of the couple described here, 
there were in 1930 thirty-seven grandchildren and something over 


sixty great-grandchildren. The grandchildren were found in the fol- 
lowing occupations: two dentists, one in Baltimore and the other in 
New York City; two undertakers, one hi Philadelphia and the other 
in New York City; four teachers; one painter; one tailor; and five 


One of the most pleasant recollections of my childhood days is 
that of trips which I occasionally took on Saturday afternoons after 
the week's work was over to grandfather's house. Trudging behind 
one or more of my older sisters, the three miles' journey through the 
woods was always full of delight on account of the happy hours we 
knew we would spend with grandfather and mother and dear Aunt 
Margie. Frequently, on Sunday morning after Sunday School, held 
in the school house near our home, my father would hitch his horse 
to the cart. He and mother would sit on a seat board in the front of 
the cart, spread an old quilt in the back and pack as many of us back 
there as it would hold and go to grandfathers to spend the day. Going 
home through the twilight, we would lie down as best we could and 
sleep until we reached home. 

My grandmother and grandfather were noted throughout the com- 
munity for their piety. They lived about a mile from Pleasant Plains 
Baptist Church, which my grandfather helped to establish before the 
Civil War, and he served as a deacon as long as he lived. For many 
years, this church was pastored by white ministers, the first colored 
pastor being Dr. C. S. Brown, a graduate of Shaw, who took charge 
of it in the year 1885. 

Grandfather's home was the stopping place of the ministers. They 
always came on Saturdays, preached and held Conference, preached 
again on Sunday and returned home Sunday afternoon. This monthly 
meeting was a spiritual feast for them, because they could hear the 
Bible read and hymns sung and prayers go up to the Father in heaven 
they so dearly loved. 

At all times whenever anyone, young or old, visited them who could 
read or sing or pray, they were always asked to do so before retiring 
for the night. 


It was also a custom of my grandparents to especially care for the 
aged and sick in the community. So many times I have seen my 
grandfather go to his meal barrel, and send meal to some widow in the 
community or to anyone he felt was in need of food. Every Thanks- 
giving Day his home was opened to the old people in the neighbor- 
hood. They were given a delicious dinner and prayer service was held 
for them morning and afternoon. 

Now about grandfather's family. There were fourteen in all. Four 
girls and five boys lived to be grown. Four children passed on to 
heaven in their infancy. The oldest child, Nancy Ann, was married 
at an early age to Samuel Walden of Northampton County. Four 
children were born to them, Titus, Jukeniah, Eleanor, and Deborah. 
These children are still living and have many children and grand- 
children. Walden enlisted in the Civil War and lost his life. After 
this, Nancy Ann married Peter Hunter. By this union several chil- 
dren were born and three are now living, with their many children 
and grandchildren. Aunt Nan passed away eight years ago at the age 
of eighty years. Millie, the next child and my own sainted mother 
married after the Civil War, James Walden, a brother of Samuel 
Walden. She was the mother of nine children. Seven girls lived to be 
grown. Only five are now living. She passed away at the early age of 
fifty-eight. The oldest and the only surviving son, Joseph, is a resident 
of Rich Square. He was also married twice. He was blessed with two 
children by each marriage, all of which are living. Uncle Joe taught 
school for years. He was an able teacher. He was one of the first 
graduates of Hampton Institute. He has always been a man who 
stands for right. He was, when a young man, wonderful for inventing 
things and an artist with his fingers making beautiful brackets and 
picture frames, some of which may now be seen in the old home. I 
love him because he was so kind. [Gave incident.] The next son, 
Willis, I never knew. He died before I was born. He was also edu- 
cated at Hampton and while teaching in Northampton County con- 
tracted pneumonia. Those were not days of telephones, telegrams, or 
automobiles, so he was dead before my grandparents could reach him. 

Then came William, the jewel of the family, the most consecrated 
and lovely Christian character in the family. Hampton was also his 
Alma Mater. For years he was Principal of the Gloucester High 
School in Gloucester County, Virginia. After giving up this work, he 


founded the Weaver Orphan Home, the only one in the state of Vir- 
ginia. This institution is now being conducted by his excellent wife, 
Mrs. Annie Weaver, he having passed away not quite two years ago. 

David comes next, another Hampton student, a modest, unassum- 
ing young man, remarkable as the others for noble Christian character. 
[Incident.] He was married late in life to Miss Estelle Sprague, a 
granddaughter of the noted Frederick Douglas. His last days were 
spent in Newport News, Virginia. He left a large family who live, all 
of them, in the West, in Kansas, Texas, and Ohio. 

My Aunt Sarah was the next child. She, too, received her training 
at Hampton. My first recollection of her was after coming home from 
school, she taught at the Starkie Pugh School house on the road that 
now leads from Cofield to Ahoskie. She boarded at my mother 's. One 
night my mother was sick and she was preparing supper. We had no 
stoves in those days. She was cooking biscuits in an iron spider with 
a lid. [Getting coals.] She asked me to hold the lamp that she might 
see if they were browned. This I considered a gracious privilege, es- 
pecially when she smiled at me, thanked me so kindly and called me 
"her boy." She married a Mr. Hamilton, who taught tailoring at 
Hampton Institute. She, too, died young and is buried at Hampton 
in the school cemetery. 

James and Isekiah were the two youngest sons. James was a splendid 
brick-mason. He reared a large family. His wife was formerly a Miss 
Lizzie Holland. Isekiah was a carpenter, respected in the community 
in which he lived. He was happily married to Miss Genia Rooks of 
Gates County, who is one of our number today. Both of these sons 
have passed on to the great beyond. 

And now what shall I say of dear Aunt Margie, the one who is still 
"Captain of the fort" and is holding the whole home together. She 
was always the stand-by for father and mother. She nursed them when 
sick and always remembered them when she was away. She married 
William Hamilton, and for a while lived in Franklin, Virginia. She 
moved from there to Providence, R.I. After her husband's death, she 
moved back to the old homestead. She was blessed with four children. 

This old home has been in the possession of the Weaver family for 
over eighty years. To us this place is hallowed ground. Our grand- 
parent 's songs and prayers, their admonitions and entreaties to us to 
follow Jesus, still linger in our ears. Have we been faithful to his 


teachings? Have we reared our children as he taught us? We feel 
that his blessings are following us day by day. Not one of his own 
children strayed from the straight and narrow path. They were living 
examples of honesty, truthfulness, and temperance. They were frugal, 
all owning their own homes. They were credits to the community in 
which they lived. We are proud to own them as our ancestors. It has 
been a custom for many years to meet once a year, in a family reunion. 
Only two are left of the old family. 

We thank God for the privilege today of being able to be here. 


[There was one son and a grandson on the porch at the time the 
investigators came up. The son was married and lived a short distance 
from this place, while the grandson and another son lived with their 
grandmother. The grandchildren were aged ten and twelve, respec- 
tively, and in the first and third grades at school.] 

When questioned about herself and family, Mrs. Griggs replied, 
"My mamma, she said I was born on ole man Chuma Crack's place 

on B 's farm. After I married I left 'em, but I been here in the 

neighborhood nigh on about forty years. I been on this spot nigh 
about thirty years. My chillun done married off. I don' keep good 
health; I keep bad health. I want this ole house tore down. Mr. 

B own it in slavery time, an' he sold it to Miss J H . She 

sold it to Miss B C , then Mr. H got it. We been here 

through all that. This not quite a one-horse farm. But you got to 
work. The white man don't do nothin' but give you the land, and 
there it is. 

"My mamma never did send me to school, but I tried to learn my 
chilluns. My mamma died this year; she were about 103 years old 
when she died. My papa used to tell me how the white folks did [in 
slavery days] beat him and put hounds on him and work him. He 
was only married one time. Papa died about seven years ago. He 
was eighty some when he died. I don't know anything about my 
grandparents. Mamma said her mamma died with the small pox and 
they burn her up [in slavery time]. 

"I was the mother of fifteen chillun in all. I got six livin'. Some 


come live, but didn't live no time, yet three got to be big chillun 
walkin' about befo' dey dies. One boy got to be eighteen years old. 
He had that fever and from that spasms and chills, and from the spells 
he fell in the fire and got burnt and never did get over it. The other 
two just died with the fever. Charlie, he goin' on three years old when 
he died with the fever, too. With the others I go about five months 
or six months and I lose 'em. I jest keep a losin' 'em. That the last 
one I saved right there [pointing to the son], I had to work to save 
him. I had to go to the doctor. I got so weak I couldn't hold 'em." 
Speaking of the boys, she said concerning one that he was "cross-eyed 
or cock-eyed or somethin'. He can't see right good. But ain't nair 
one crippled. Nair one have fits. Andrew Potts got his eye might nigh 
knocked out years ago." 

When asked if Mr. Griggs was the father of all her children, Mrs. 
Griggs answered: "No'm, he wasn't the father of 'em all. He was the 
father of Julia and Dan [the oldest boy in Montgomery]. Robert 
Potts is the father of de other four Mae, Reginald, James, and An- 
drew. I was married to Griggs by Dick Brown. I wasn't never married 
to Potts. 

"Charlie [grandson] was born here. My daughter were in Birming- 
ham, but she came on here. She went back for a while and stay with 
her husband, then she sent him [Charlie] back and give him to me. 
Robert [speaking of another grandson] was born in Montgomery. Dan 
[Mrs. Griggs' son and Robert's father] give him [Robert] to me when 
he was three. Sam Brooks, Charlie's father, I don' know where he is 
at. His home, though, is in Birmingham. Mae Brooks, my daughter, 
and Sam was married right down there. Professor Cook married 'em. 
Lillie Page was Robert's mother. She an' Dan weren't married." 

In regard to the children away, she said: "Mae, she married and 
went off from here before the boy was born. Mae ought to be about 
thirty- two years old. She been out here once this year. She in Mont- 
gomery. Julia, she in Montgomery, too. She been out here twice. 
They stay in jinin' rooms. She been gone about eleven years. She 
stayed here a year after 'Miss' [Mae] married; washes some for the 
white peoples and cooks some, I reckon. James moved way year 
before last. He's married; ain't got no chillun. He's the oldest one. 
Reginald [Rooster], he live right over the hill. He been away [from 
the parent-home] five years; got three chillun. Dan, he in Montgom- 


ery. He been gone I don't know how long. He won't staying with me 
when he went off in the army. He been gone a long time. He been 
married twice. Had three chillun by his first wife, Alice Robinson. 
His second wife's Susie Black, but him and her ain't never found no 

chillun. Andrew's on Mr. B 's place. He got four chillun. He been 

gone about nine years. He married Ruth Williams. 

"Mr. Griggs [her husband], he stays up yonder to Liverpool. He 
married again to Mamie Wright. He tole me he want a divorce; I 
tole him he was welcome to it. Me and him was separated near about 
ten years before he did marry. He didn't work to suit me, and I 
didn't work to suit him." When asked if she put him out, she re- 
plied, "I didn't put him out, he walked on out I reckon. I didn't 
want no lazy man. 

"We rent from Mr. H ; he ain't give us no advance in seven 

years. The place suits us and we jes' do the best us can. We made 
a sort of little crop last year, and then he went up on the rent this 
year. I guess he thought that would get that [all the crop]. We paid 
one bale [450 pounds] for rent and sold i| bales. The money was 
divided between my boy and me and his wife, and he had three to 
look after and I had four, and there wasn't much left. We divided 
after paying $25.00 for the mule. We sold i^ bales of cotton for $50.00; 
paid $25.00 for the mule, and had $25.00 left, and this was divided. 

"We ain't raised nothin' much but a little corn and a little syrup; 
about twenty-five bushels of corn, and we divided that. Then there 
was two small banks of 'taters. Last year it was so dry the 'taters 
didn't have time to get their growth. We got about twelve gallons of 
millet syrup." Speaking of the crop, she remarked, "The last two or 
three years the crop has been bad. Last year it wasn't so bad, but 
year before that, and the year before that, we didn't make the rent." 

When asked if she had any farm implements, she replied, "Yes, 
ma'm, I got a couple of plows; ain't much; just nailed 'em up and 
pieced 'em up. If I make anything, I am going to buy me some plows." 

Concerning the food, she said, "Ain't had nothin' today but meat 
and bread, and hardly had that; the garden done burn up so bad. 
For Sunday, we had some fried inguns and flour bread and such as 
that. I milk every day. The cow can't give much, she might nigh dry, 
don' hav' nothin' much to give her. We have just one thing, and can't 
hardly get that. Times is hard and you have to scuffle yourself. White 


folks ain't gwine to give you nothing jes' have to do the best you can. 
We killed the hog last year because she ate the chickens. Den we 
bought dis one an' she eat chickens. One of the grand children works 
for one of the neighbors. Charlie gets $0.50 a day from Edwin Work. 
He black, but a big man and sees after 'em, and he has somethin' to 
hire we with for the money. The rest of 'em ain't got nothin' to hire 
nobody." When questioned about expenditures for food and clothing, 
she answered, "Ain't got nothin' to spend. I work out and get a little 
something. I work for anybody, and get a half gallon of syrup or like 
dat. Dey ain't got nothin' to pay you with. 

"This house been built about thirteen years. It done wore out 
one set of shingles. We got a privy but tain't no 'count. Got to get 
lumber to fix it up. We cook on a stove, but it done wore out now." 
When Mrs. Griggs was asked if she slept with the windows open, 
she replied, "No'm. I'm scared to stay in here with 'em open." In 
reply to the question of whether she liked the place, she said, "I likes 
here bettern any wheres else I know. I would have to go and get used 
to it, but I been here so long." When asked if there was anything 
wrong with the house, she replied, "There's nothing wrong if the 
white man would fix it. Yes'm, it leaks." 

Concerning school expenditures, she said, "It takes all I can do 
to eat. This year I cut it down to about $3.00 for the two chillun. 
Last year it was $4.00. I worried this year till they cut it down." 

Concerning insurance, she said, "We ain't got no insurance; I was 
just in a society, but it got to the place where I could not keep it up, 
and I just got out. I wanted to try to stay in something so when I 
lay down and die, I have somethin' to bury me. If you don't pay the 
dues they just put you out. You can jine again, but you have to 
pay that back money. Societies done got to the place they don't 
help you none. All of them near 'bout done broke down. The treas- 
urer, she said she had the money in the bank and the bank close down. 
I decided to let it alone. Don't care how much you have in there, 
you get behin', they goin' to turn you out. I was sick when the Red 
Cross was giving seeds. I went to the Health Department and some 
of them said if I tried to farm they wouldn't give you nothin'; jest 
help them what was caught. 

"I don't know 'zackly how much I spent for clothes; it was such 
a little bit. I bought the chillun a little somethin'. I bought books and 


pay the teacher. If you don't pay the teacher, they send 'em back. I 
spent about $11.00 in buying them underwear and everything. 

"Ain't spent no thin' for medicine more than a little Black Draught. 
If I had money I would go to the doctor. I'm old enough to cross over 
and it worries me. I ain't been to no doctor. I did say I was going to 
Dr. Davidson to see if he had anything. Last year the doctor give me 
some pills and liquory medicine for the fever. I sometime think I got 
something; I keep sick all the time, but they ain't never tell me what 
it is. It been near twenty years since I been to a doctor. I need to go 
a heap of times, but I don't have nothin' to go with. I keep puny and 
need medicine all the time, but I ain't had no money. My last blood 
that was drawn, I ain't got no hearin' from. 1 The first time they say 
I had bad blood. I took seven shots, but the doctor said I was most 
too old, and he change up and give me medicine. Charlie took three 
or four shots, until they drawed his blood again, and did not get no 
hearin'. Robert took the shots." 

When asked what she did for a good time, she answered, "I can't 
catch no fish. I jest stay here trying to clean up, patch up and do 
something or other." 

Concerning how she got along with her neighbors, she said, "I 
don't worry nobody in the world but myself and Jesus and I have to 
beg him all the time to get some bread to eat. He sure will answer 
your prayers but look like it come so long, but he moves in his own 
time; got to keep on begging him to open a way for you; if he don't, 
someone gwine to perish. I belong to Damascus Church, but I go to 
all the churches, if I ain't too tired to walk." About paying dues, she 
said, "Yes, I paid 'em at first; womens pay $1.80. I didn't pay last 
year 'cause I didn't have it. Ain't paid nothin' this year. All I did 
is make out to live." When asked if the church helped her any, she 
replied, "My mamma was here; she was a hundred some odd years old 
and blind, and they didn't give her nothin'." 

She said, concerning church membership, "I been belongst to 
church now near about thirty years. Where the Lord convert my 
soul? Right over yonder by dat dead tree, dat where the Lord convert 

1 This refers to Wassermann examinations and treatments for syphilis 
which were carried on among about a fourth of the Negro families in the 


my soul at about nine o'clock on a Thursday. I was over there pray- 
ing; over by that tree was my praying ground. I know when the Lord 
poured his Holy Ghost around my soul. I knowed there was something 
doin' then 'cause I had been praying so long. He told me to go in 
all parts of the world and tell what he have done for my soul. I was 
baptized by John Woods old Pap Woods. I jined Damascus. That 
church been tore down three times. It started as a bush harbor, then 
a log cabin, then they built a little bit more." 


The first trouble I had was after my father was killed. I been had 
trouble so much since then. My father been dead three years. I been 
put out so much 'till I don't know what I would do if it was not for 

Miss W who give me some work to do. I have a baby two years 

old. He is sick now. I had to take him back to the hospital yester- 
day, but they said he only had an ear-ache and so I brought him back 
home. My mother is working a little bit. She is married again, but 
she don't help me any. The people next door helps me more than my 
mother. I got a baby, you see. I used to stay with a school teacher 
in Brownsville, Tennessee. And she said her husband was my baby's 
dady. But she is just telling something that ain't true, 'cause my 

baby's daddy is named R W . R is in Tennessee. You 

see, I named my baby after his dady. His name was R W , 

but after the baby was born in the hospital [Cook County] they said 

I would have to name him R B , 'cause B is my last name. 

I will be eighteen in August. My baby is two years old now. He was 
willing to marry me, but after I come up here and had my baby, I 
just didn't want him. This school teacher came up here and done seen 
the baby and she say her husband is the baby's father 'cause it looks 
just like him. She cursed me so much. When I was staying with her 
after my father got killed, her husband was teaching out. He never 
would come home. I was going to high school then when I was there. 
But, her husband was too old for me. 

I came here before the baby was born. Well, I ain't seen the baby's 
father in such a long time; I don't care to marry him now; looks like 
I can get along better by myself. I seen how other girls get along and 
it's so bad I just don't care to be bothered. So this woman said if she 


thought it was her husband's child, she wouldn't never speak to me 
no more. I don't care if she don't speak. Her husband is really old. 
He is a preacher and a teacher, too. He never asked me a question 
like that. He would always try to teach me better. Well, I tell you, 
when my baby's father and I were going together, he was so mean, 
I just didn't think we could get along. You know, I got a sister and 
her husband have been up here five years and have parted. And I 
done seen enough of that. I live with my mother. I ain't got no regular 

place now. If you don't catch me at 32 Vernon, you can get me at 

32 Vernon. The lady who lives next door is named Miss C . 

They bought that place but they are trying to sell it now. Some- 
time, I have a notion to go back to him [baby's father] and then again 
I don't. 

My mother never cared nothing for me after I was like that, you 
know. Well I'll tell you what I didn't even tell anybody, it was like 
this. We was coming from school. I had been going with him for 
some time. But that was the first time and the last time he ever had 
me. He was talking with me, you know, and was showing me different 
things that he would do. His folks got a plenty and he showed me a 
$10.00 bill 'course you know how a girl does for money. We was at 
his folks house but they was out and we was in his room by ourselves. 
His people stayed the next door from where this school teacher lived, 
and where I was staying. I was only fifteen then. Yes, ma'm, I been 
all alone. You see sometime when we was at home we didn't see papa 
but once a month; he worked in the country. It's five of us girls and 
two got happened like that me and my oldest sister. She had a baby 
but didn't marry the baby's father. She married another man. Papa 
raised seven children. You see, my mother left him when we was all 
real young and she came up here. She even left my little sister who 
was only six months old. Well, a man cut my father with a four pound 
knife over some moonshine. They was at a party and my father told 
this man to hold the moonshine 'til he got back and when he came 
back this man done drank up all the moonshine, and my father was 
fussing with him, and he cut my father's heart right in two. He died 
right away. 

The father of my baby is twenty-two years old now. When we was 
going together, he was twenty. We was both in high school. One 
time I say I am going back and then again I don't, for the people 


down there talk so much. This school teacher told so many that this 
baby is her husband's. I told her that she was trying to get me in 
trouble. She is real bright and her husband is dark. He was married 
twice before he married her anyway. My own mother thought that 
this baby was this school teacher 's husband's. I tell you the truth, 
before the baby was born, my own people and some others said that 
the baby was a white man's that was before it was even born. But 
I didn't "fool" with no white man at all, 'cause those white folks don't 
care nothing 'bout no colored down there. Those people sho' talk a 
heap. This school teacher's sister-in-law come over to my house last 
week and she said she didn't believe it. And she said if it was, or if it 
wasn't, don' pay any attention to what this school teacher said. You 
know, this teacher is trying to bring this up in court. I told her 
if she want to be out of $25.00, she could take my baby and her hus- 
band down to the doctor and have a blood test and then she could see 
for herself. When I was living at her home in Tennessee, she said she 
knew that I was that way. She said an old lady told her that she had 
been midwife of lots of women, and she said to this school teacher 
that I was like that. She told her that it was her husband's. 

And some days, I tell you the truth, I don't even put a piece of 
bread in my mouth or drink a glass of water. I go to eat and git so 
filled up thinking over things, I just can't eat. One time I came 

here to this office 'cause my mother put me out and Miss W give 

me a blanket to sleep on. Sometime I think about it, then I cry and 
then again I laugh and say the devil works his wheel all the time. 
When I was real small I used to be assistant teacher at the Baptist 
Sunday School in Tennessee. We all belonged there. But my mother 
been in so many different churches. Well, I tell you, peoples come up 
here and git turned around. My two youngest sisters stays over there 
with my mother, but she says sometimes she feels like throwing them 
in the lake. My step-father is nice sometimes, and sly sometimes. One 
sister is fourteen and the other is ten and a cripple. The fourteen year 
old child is in the first grade. She don't learn fast 'cause when I was 
fourteen years old I was in the sixth grade. My father used to bet on 
me 'cause I was so smart for my age. That's why I don't pay no atten- 
tion to what people said. I just only got fooled once and that's all. 

I don't go no place much. I tries to save all I can. I used to go 
right smart but I don't go now since the baby's been sick. I meet 


people on the street and they say I am friendly but they don't know 
I got a baby 'cause I don't stop that long to talk with them. I been 
out of work for a week yesterday. I used to pay my mother $4.00 a 
week. The lady next door said I could stay there for nothing. When 
my mamma makes me mad I just go over next door. 

You see, my father always thought so much of me, but the rest 
of the family didn't care about me at all. When my father got killed, 
some of us came up here and some stayed vlown there. I paid my own 
fare and came up here. My father never wanted me to bob my hair 
but when I came up here I bobbed it. That was after he was killed. 
My father got a sister; she is half white. She lives in Little Rock, 
Arkansas. She was awfully good to me. I stayed with her two years, 
but I done forgot where she lives in Little Rock, now. I think if my 
mother had stayed with us we wouldn't have got all mixed up. I 
just ain't had no body to raise me. You see, people thought I was so 
smart, but after this trouble, they have all turned me down. I don't 
ever hear from the baby's father and I ain't going to write. I got along 
this far without him and I guess I can go on. The baby is brown in 
color and has a little mole on one side of his face, and he is real smart. 


The greatest disappointment, the deepest sorrow, the question of 
my most constant thought has been the one of my family. I am al- 
most tempted to say that my being here has been my very bitterest 
cup. The question of family first began to worry me when I began 
my earliest association with other children, hear them talk and call 
their different relatives by name. And how I wondered about the 
word "mother." I never heard that word before. The word that was 
always attentive to my needs in childhood I called Auntie. In my 
childish way I began to question my Auntie. I wanted to know why I 
didn't have a mother, father, brothers and grandparents as other 
children had. I used to hear them say, "a new member has been 
added to the family." Family, hum! Another mysterious word. Well, 
I came to understand the terms as I advanced in school and just the 
importance of their functions. While the next perplexing thought 
arose to mar my happiness, where is my family, their race, religion, 


achievements and personal characteristics? This very grave question 
has not been answered to my satisfaction as yet. 

You can just imagine what an unhappy childhood I experienced. 
The children often called me names such as, "orphan," "bastard," 
"yallow," and others too numerous to mention. I would cry and 
couldn't understand. When I was about twelve years old and experi- 
encing the entrance to puberty, the question of parents and family 
rested heavily upon me. It changed my disposition. It made me sick. 
I would sit for days without eating or drinking, just thinking and 
brooding over my plight. My Aunt, who was always kind but very 
reticent about the thing that was causing me so much concern, finally 
gave me over to the doctor's care. When he came I told him I was 
not sick, I just wanted to know, "who I am." He found that this was 
the trouble that was slowly ruining my health at this critical period 
in my young life. He told my Aunt to tell me, if she knew about my 
people, or it might be I would become mentally affected for life. My 
Aunt told me about my people and it has only served to make me more 
miserable at times, although I know I am not to be blamed. 

My people were N 's, having taken this name from their slave 

masters when freedom was declared. As far back as she traced, they 
were of mixed blood. My maternal grandmother was of Indian blood, 
my paternal grandmother, of Irish and Negro blood. Grandmother 

married a Negro T , by name and Mr. N gave his old 

Negroes' children ten acres of land to begin their family life. They 
built a house typical of that time. To this union were six children and 
of that number my mother was the baby girl. I have not seen her but 
how I have wished, longed, and am waiting. When she was sixteen 

she too married a Negro, C , whose family got its name from a 

white family who traces its ancestry back to the C 's of history. 

To this union were born three children and me the fourth one, an 
"ugly duckling." What it was that made her give herself over to the 
other race at this late day, I cannot see, and to think my father was a 

descendant from my great-grandparents, the N 's. The first three 

children were as they should have been, but Mr. C knew and 

mother knew I was not. She confessed when I was three weeks old; 
it was then / lost my family. Mr. C took me himself and can- 
vassed a home for me a helpless innocent, blameless infant, three 
weeks old, without home and parents. One kind Aunt, whom I shall 


always love, took me in her care. Mr. C took his children and 

left. Mother lost herself to her people also. 

When I was about sixteen, a white family moved to McDonough to 

live by the name of "N ." This interested me because that was 

my surname. My Aunt became highly nervous and began to evade 
my questions again. This only made me more curious. She finally 
told me one day after I had overheard a little conversation between 
them in the store that he was my father. All the curses, anger, every- 
thing swelled in me. I just wanted to tell him in my highest crescendo 
what a dirty deal he had caused me, but you can understand why I 
didn't. It was not enough for him, being the cause of me being called 
those obnoxious names, but he must come to live in the very place 
where I live and have my unhappy being. 

People discussed me and asked Auntie, but she did not tell others 
than the doctor and me. My father was very prominent and accumu- 
lated considerable wealth from his business as owner of several small 
town groceries and a large farm in Georgia that had been inherited. 
He was well thought of by his group and stood high in religious, 
social, and intellectual circles. He was regarded as a good man. No 
one knew that in one mile's distance of his home, he also had a Negro 
child. But, I have always believed he secretly looked after me, he 
watched me. But he never gave it away. I always acted perfectly 
ignorant of any attention. During 1926, he became very ill and one 
day a message came for Auntie. He had sent for her. I had just 
finished high school and was trying to be everything that goes to make 
a lovely girl, and forget I was conceived in iniquity. Auntie went and 
it happened he told his wife after all these years. Auntie was witness 
to the fact that I was. It was a dying request of his that she forgive 
him and she did. She also agreed to my having of his estate what he 
wanted me to have. In a very secretive way I obtained a home of my 
own and money to be used only for education. (If it were not to be 
truthful in this paper this would not be mentioned.) The longing for 
a respectful family, mother and father, has not left me. Although I 
try to consider that the blame lies not in me, but my parents. Being 
a girl of the twentieth century in a time when people were supposed 
to know better, having the scorn of those who had families were my 
roughest edges. Though they don't actually know the truth, they 
think it strongly and rightly. 


As I grow older and begin to take my place i